The Goddess Movement in Britain Today
A recent proposition that we have reached 'the end of history'1 has been widely nodded through. Fukuyama suggested that with the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, there is no longer any real confrontation of ideas - in the West at least.
My suggestion is that this overlooks a growing philosophy that is attracting more and more interest, one that poses as fundamental a challenge to established ways of thought and action, to methods of living and relationships between individuals, as did the very different assaults from Marxism-Leninism.
Socialism and Communism based their theories on an economic view of society, but made it clear that a substantial trickle-down effect to the realm of ethics and morality was their theoretical justification. 2
Indeed those ethics and that morality - the hope of a world family that could live in peace, justice and equality - took the place of religion during this century for millions of the world's disadvantaged, as well as of its leading thinkers and activists. It became, in fact 'the soul of soulless nations, and the heart of heartless people'. 3
Because of the power of this dream, many today still cling to the outmoded Marxist concepts, despite the proof of their total disintegration in practice.
The new philosophy, which I propose to discuss in some detail, is that of spiritual feminism. This understands that a major cause of the failure of the socialist aspiration is the banishment of a spiritual dimension; but it is important to emphasize that such feminism does not seek merely to introduce a novel or renewed religious faith or practice. Rather, it gives due weight to the religious factor, which it sees as fundamental to all aspects of the human being in society. The world-view which it seeks to replace has been grounded in religions as they have been expounded and practised - a world-view that supports male dominance in every sector of human life, and relies on tradition and texts which until today have disseminated this belief.
Spiritual feminism declares that this is a false picture; that in both human and divine terms the female is as much the norm as the male. Women's needs and opinions therefore are as valuable as men's. Women's values, where different from men's, need adequate expression and action. Above all, the history and religions that have inflicted the traditional viewpoint of the contrary case are deficient and need correction.
This form of feminism differs from the classic types in that it places the onus for change in society, firmly on the recognition of the spiritual as a major element, and claims for women a right to their autonomous spirituality, not mediated through men's views and actions. The result of this change of thinking can spread into every sector of social and political action, as well as into intellectual endeavour and human relationships. It even spins off into the newly appreciated need for the world's peoples to change their methods of living on this planet.
Such spiritual feminism is commonly tagged as something to do with 'the Goddess', and I propose to discuss various aspects of this perception, as I have understood them. It is important at this point to state that there is no consensus, no credo and what I write is from my own experience. Indeed part of the 'Goddess philosophy' is the autonomy of each individual's thinking and religious faith and practice.
It is my own part in and knowledge of the Goddess movement in Britain over the period of the last eighteen years which has led me to assess the general phenomenon in the way in which I introduced this paper. Much has been written elsewhere of the US picture. I shall only refer to that as it affects my own experience and perceptions.
Who or What is the Goddess?
(a) the feminist movement itself;
(b) paganism or neo-paganism, to which can be connected New Age thinking;
(c) forms relating to Judaism and Christianity.
First, the Goddess as she has developed in feminist thinking in the UK. I have written accounts of this subject at various times, and will summarize here. The Matriarchy Study Group, London, which I joined as a founder member, in London in 1975 started as an offshoot of the London Women's Liberation Movement. I remember a notice in the newsletter put out from the Women's Liberation Movement's then headquarters near London's Leicester Square. This had stated that the group would question the assumption that God had always been perceived and addressed as a male (Lord, Father, King, Son, etc.), no matter how often it was stressed that God is beyond gender. It denied the current thinking that women had always been 'the subordinate sex' and linked this thinking to perception of the female in divinity. Basically it set out to research this area in as scholarly a way as possible.
The Matriarchy Study Group published a number of pamphlets and magazines setting out the results of each woman's research. The editorial in the first of these, 'Goddess Shrew' (1977), set out our thinking of that time:
(a) 'There was a time when society was organized on the basis of a woman-led culture. The Goddess was worshipped not only in terms of fertility and survival, but as a way of life in which the feminine and the female were considered pre-eminent Great civilisations were built on these cultures.
(b) We do not wish merely to contemplate the past. Our aim of understanding the past is to influence the present. We see the part that male-based religion has played in demeaning and exploiting women. In exposing this, we want to share our regained confidence in ourselves with other women. . .
(c) Further, we see that such control of the spirit as well as of our bodies will extend the possibility of change in society. . . we move from the importance of feminist social demands to total re-appraisal of patriarchy in politics generally. '
It will be seen that the question of defining 'the Goddess' did not arise. The Goddess to our thinking then, and in the thing of our respondents, was the perception that the divine could be female - and consequently women too could be part of or represent in some way the divine. Further it was part of the excitement that not only did we wish this to be the case, there was ample evidence to argue that for long periods of the past, this was actually accepted as the case. In some ways the terms 'the Goddess' was a synonym for a woman with newly regained self-worth. 'I am in the image of the divine; I am acknowledged. I have, all this time been told a lie. I am not - and never was - inferior, subordinate. ' This was the thing. Later one woman summed it up for me: coming across and reading this and similar material was, she said 'like a pinhole in the darkness'.
Eventually, and in the other areas, as we shall see, the thealogy 5 of the Goddess became more important. But not only at that time, but ever since and up until today, the work I do in adult education, women's workshops and the like evokes a similar response among women who are at the introductory stage of the subject.
What is not important to them is whether the Goddess is a supreme deity, or is one deity. In fact the question arises only after some time, when people are well advanced into Goddess culture and action and are interested in debate on the subject. It actually bothers very few seekers in terms of definition.
While this is still the case, a similar comprehension of 'the Goddess' was described in the early days of the movement by two US writers - Carol Christ and Merlin Stone. 6 In the keynote address at the University of California conference on 'The Great Goddess Re-Emerging', spring 1978, Carol Christ's reflections on 'Why Women Need the Goddess' became part of the received theory. She started by quoting the famous sentence from Ntosake Shange's play 'For Coloured Girls who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf': 'I found God in myself and I loved her fiercely'. She comments that the speaker is saying that the divine principle, the saving and sustaining power is in herself, and she will no longer look to men or male figures as saviours (p. 277). Carol discusses whether the Goddess is only within ourselves or is also 'out there'. Three major answers are discussed. They comprise:
(1) the belief that 'the Goddess is a divine female, a personification who can be invoked in prayer and ritual;
(2) the Goddess is a symbol of life, death and rebirth energy. . .
(3) the Goddess is a symbol of the affirmation and beauty of female power' (p. 278)
Further, the Goddess is to be recognized in many aspects of female life, which have been denigrated - menstruation, childbirth, etc. This essay has a profound effect in Britain since it summed up, for many, the ideas and feeling that were so powerful but for which no real discipline had been discovered. Merlin Stone, also at the same conference, set out her three aspects of Goddess spirituality. The feminist movement's acceptance of the Goddess is motivated, she wrote 'by much the same feeling that has encouraged us to re-discover and reclaim female artists, writers, scientists, political leaders. . affording us. . . a broader view. . . a perspective which allows us to look into the past to see further ahead' (p. 2). Next, because of this, women can 'confront the many tangible and material issues of the blatant inequalities of society as we know it today', while thirdly, a Goddess viewpoint allows us to examine specific ways in which male religions have maintained a subordinate status for women and helps us to challenge this. It will be seen from both these authors that the question of exactly 'who' is the Goddess was hardly addressed. Much more important was the effect of such a concept on women themselves.
However, in Britain, one woman did take up this problem and has had a powerful effect on the movement here. Monica Sjoo, 7 a Swedish artist who settled in Britain, has written widely, as well as exhibiting major paintings on the subject. An early pamphlet - a precursor of a book to be written with US poet Barbara Mor and published fifteen years or so later - states her position. The Goddess is the Greatest Cosmic Mother of All, from her womb the universe was created.
Monica's view is that creation and creativity spring from the woman who is herself a representative of the Mother Goddess, who is both light and dark and whose motherhood is essential to her status. She also emphasizes that the 'rebirth of the Goddess' is also about the renewal of women's own creativity and powers. This period of the Goddess movement in Britain has been covered in depth by Ursula King who also notes my own dissent from Monica's views on the identification of the Goddess and creativity totally with motherhood.
In the meantime, the Matriarchy Study Group produced two more publications, one a full-scale journal entitled Politics of Matriarchy 8 and in the same year a pamphlet called Menstrual Taboos. The former ranged widely over prehistory, for example, goddesses in Crete and Anatolia, but concentrated more particularly on the effect of Goddess understanding or 'matriarchy' on the lives of women today. In particular, major articles on women's sexuality and a 'matriarchal manifesto' set out the full-scale change of values in ways of living and being together that were involved.
It became clear here, and this understanding was replicated widely elsewhere, that the question 'Who or What is the Goddess' did not particularly refer to any entity, being, concept, personification or Greater Being 'out there' somewhere. Rather, it specifically brought forward a complex of ideas centred on an identification of women's lives and received values with something 'more', something 'divine', which was understood as 'The Goddess'. Further, such a view of 'The Goddess' could be attached to any known names of goddesses, and as study and research proceeded, it could be seen that some goddesses in the known past could be related to specific aspects of life.
Increasingly, women began to feel that not only were there goddesses 'out there', but the concept of 'the Goddess within' was immensely important. She was us and we were Her. My own formulation over a long period has been 'In raising Her we raise ourselves; in raising ourselves, we raise Her'.
After a time it became clear that the major groupings of Goddess research and understanding could be categorized. For example, the following list provided a start:
The Lady of the Beasts/Mistress of Nature
There were other categories: in Politics of Matriarchy, for example, one writer from New Zealand gave an account of the Goddess in contemporary Maori culture as she had experienced it. 9
Obviously it is impossible in this space to describe this work in any detail but since that time a great number of books have been published (see selected list at end) and on the whole, although they come from diverse sources, much of the understanding is similar. All I can do here is point to the various threads that build up the Goddess web that continues to inspire more and more women.
As Mistress of Nature and Lady of the Beasts, the Goddess
Elsewhere goddesses were portrayed sometimes as human women, sometimes as women with animal characteristics. One of the latter, native to Britain, can be seen in the Colchester Museum, Essex, where a strong woman with many breasts has her lower part as a lioness, and she has the wings of an eagle. She is holding in her (human) arms the head of a dead soldier. We are entitled to infer from looking at this sphinx that the female is proud and dignified, symbolized by the royal beasts; she is not distinct from the animal creation, but part of it, as is her human form; she nurtures the living with her many breasts, and she cares for the dead.
In triple forms the Goddess relates to the phases of the moon. The new and young moon are seen to be her 'maiden' mode and perhaps linked with Artemis, Kore (Persephone). The full moon, the celebrant of life is Aphrodite; her waning form, is Hecate in touch with the mysteries of age, death and hereafter. However it is pointed out strongly that these three aspects are parts of each other and not separate. Kore becomes Queen of the Underworld, and interchanges with Hecate, for example. We are warned that when we meet Aphrodite, when we start a new love affair, for example, we are to remember her sisters, the autonomous women who will not be cowed by men, and the wise woman who knows the beginnings and the end of all things.
The fourth aspect relates to the dark moon: what happens then? Some point to anger and rage, some depression, some to the role of darkness in creativity. For myself, I usually find the need to emphasize that the dark of the moon is a phase, and that when we women go into depression or despair, as so many have done and still do, we are entitled to remember that we are aligning with the moon itself, who withdraws from view and her light is not seen for a while. But we must remember that the new moon will rise and that we will shine with it.
To indicate metaphors within other major aspects of Goddess understanding, it seems that the best way is to imagine a picture of a standing woman. At her feet is the earth, from which comes renewal, but which we as human beings have exploited and polluted almost to disaster. For too long, religion denied the earth any identification with the divine. To resacralize the 'material', the ground on which the mother-mater stands will surely indicate how different must be our approach both as individuals, communities and societies. The Goddess was researched in the landscape, in the form of 'sacred sites' and standing stones where it is believed she was venerated - for example at Avebury, Silbury Hill, Glastonbury, Bath, etc; some women have formed groups to endeavour to protect such sites from exploitation and misuse, or she is felt to be in the landscape in the changing of the seasons, which are marked with seasonal rituals (see below). At the feet of this imaginary female, in addition, we can postulate our physicality and perceive it as part of the divine, our bodies, no longer 'dirty', our menstrual cycle no longer a 'curse'. Rites-of-passage for childbirth, menarche and menopause are instituted. Sexuality is understood as a celebration of life, and has inherent sacrality. Since much evidence from the past shows that sexuality was much freer in prepatriarchal societies, this aspect is taken up joyfully, but within sacred confines. Lesbian and bisexual spirituality grow naturally within this concept One of my own observations over the long period I have been working in Goddess terms is that our groups are among the few where women of different sexuality find little difficulty in working together (see section on Lesbian sexuality below).
Perhaps at this point I should say formally that there is total disagreement with the conventional view that the goddesses signify fertility only. Restoring sacrality to sexuality does not mean restricting it in this way.
If we move from the feet to the head of the woman we are looking at, and to the heart, we can seek out the Goddess of Wisdom, Lady of Intelligence and Insight. In doing this we can attempt to reclaim our intellects as well as spiritual and physical needs from intervention by patriarchal concepts. 11 This is a vast area that covers feminist research in biblical and related texts, its aim being to regain and restore some female presence, and to understand what has been obscured. One current aspiration is to build up a spirituality for women that denies the grasping materialism that has dominated the past decade or so, and that reinterprets life styles in more modest and holistic forms.
If we look at our imaginary woman's arms, and ask 'what does she do?' we find ourselves in the world of ritual, of healing, of spiritual praxis. Before entering that world, I will summarise the major effects of the feminist spirituality so far described. Based on research and on gender politics, a Goddess view of the world meant changes in the way we view and live our lives. Nature is to be respected and not exploited; as are women's bodies and physical functions so often downgraded alongside nature. Aspects of the moon or of the Goddess do not indicate a changeability or a fickleness associated with women, but a many-sided appreciation of the whole of life. Conventions of women's subordination and lack of ability in various intellectual spheres are seen to be nonsense.
Material emanating from scholars of various disciplines (theologians, archaeologists, prehistorians, anthropologists, etc.) indicated that there was a respectable case for at least some, and probably many, Goddess-oriented early societies to have been organized on reasonably egalitarian lines between women and men. The word gylany (Gimbutas, Eisler, Orenstein) 12 was introduced from the US to describe this relationship. While the word has not come into general use in this country, the ideas are certainly prevalent, some of them perhaps veering too emphatically into a 'golden age' dream. However, there is certainly a force of sentiment that believes that things were better organized in the past and that we can learn from those societies to help reorganize our own.
In particular, the suppression of acknowledgment of the female divine, the negating of the Goddess was understood to be part of a 'great lie' which entangled every part of human life in its web. Consequently from whatever angle one tried to cut through this web, and free the female divine, one was also freeing the divinity in ourselves and helping to heal the world.
Now we can attempt to answer the question 'what does she do?' We enter the world of ritual, neopaganism and magic.
The Goddess and Paganism (or Neo-paganism)
An excellent survey appears in a recent issue of the US magazine Circle Network News13 of today's phenomenon of the resurgence of paganism and the development of neo-paganism. A number of writers discuss 'pagan world views'.
Dennis Carpenter sets the scene in an essay of paganism's 'spiritual contours'. 14 He defines its spirituality within the context of postmodernism - a theme which also attracts other writers in the survey - and selects major themes for examination. Among them are 'inter-connectedness, the immanent/ transcendent dimension, animism and spiritism, monotheism/ polytheism. . . and the concept of magic'. 15 All these headings are essential elements; perhaps the first two, inter-connectedness and the immanent/transcendent dimension were the first to be connected clearly to the feminist Goddess movement. Carpenter quotes a full panoply of modern sources including Starhawk:
'The Goddess is around us and within us. She is immanent and transcendent. . . the Goddess represents the divine embodied in nature, in human beings, in the flesh. . . '16 Many writers have dwelt at length on the inter-connection between the divine and the earthly, and on the same inter-connection between all parts of the universe. Carpenter sums up this area: 'Pagans maintain immanent and pantheistic perspectives in which the divine is dispersed through Nature and is Nature'. 17
Another writer in the survey, Kathleen Starnes, discusses witchcraft within the setting of a nature religion and within the concept of related immanence and transcendence.
'One need not deny the materiality of the Divine in order to accept the power and spiritual manifestations of the Divine. The Goddess is evident in all forms around us. . For the Witch, the Earth and Stars are the visual tactile aspects of the Divine in Union. . herbs, crystals, trees and stones are all part of the Craft. But the visionary and transcendent application is what makes a spell work. '18
Until American views started becoming important in the British Goddess scene, spiritual feminism and witchcraft or paganism had hardly met. Spiritual feminists did not identify as witches until the early and mid-eighties and then only a minority did so. The work of Starhawk and Z. Budapest19 had a startling effect, and came at a time when such feminist researchers and those interested in their work were demanding more than just 'cerebral activity'. In Britain, of course, there existed the pagan and witchcraft movement, which did not and indeed today still does not in any way define itself as feminist. By an interesting paradox, the US, usually West Coast, feminist witches looked to Britain for age-old pagan and craft traditions, and bound these inextricably, it seemed, into their Goddess movement. There was, it appears to me, very little interest from the US in actually identifying the British pagan and witchcraft scene in its proper context. Age-old mysteries of Albion were more or less taken for granted. However, more recently there have been a number of extremely helpful studies into this subject. 20 The provenance of today's witchcraft and the Wicca movement is open to scrutiny. Some of the questions include their origin. For example, are modern Wicca and its relations a construction based on the work of Crowley, Gardner, Sanders in the middle decades of this century? Do they contain some elements of village magic, and some hereditary witch families? While Margaret Murray's theories of witchcraft's prominence in the history of England from the Dark Ages to the Enlightenment 21 have been rejected by academics, is there something of substance that has been overlooked in this area of her work? Many pagan researches are set within a description of paganism as a religion, and allow little sentimentality. It is clear that Wicca and paganism are defined as the religions of 'the God and the Goddess' in the context set out by Carpenter.
How then did the Goddess movement become so involved in it? Another look at the Circle Network News survey can help us. Susannah McBride writes:
The concept of the divine feminine is one of the greatest selling points of modern Paganism. Women in conventional spirituality are bombarded with images of our sex as imperfect, as less than whole, as unclean. Yet in Wicca and most forms of Neo-Paganism we are Goddess - divinity incarnate. 22
Rhiannon Asher in the same survey adds a further cogent argument. Calling her article 'Drawing down the Gods through Sexual Ecstasy', she speaks of the freedom of casting away the conditioning of shame and guilt about sex and identifying sexual experience with the sacred.
I am a woman in a violent sexually repressed motherless world, a world in which women are raped and beaten and used to sell products. . . that glorifies war and reveres the taking of life. It is vital that the act which created life be returned to its honourable place in worship. 23
Sacred sexuality, she says is worshipping the Gods through the act of sexual loving. (It will be noted that 'the Gods' are presumably meant to include 'the Goddess or Goddesses', an indication of the lack of awareness of feminist thought.)
However, once the ideas of neopaganism reached feminists it is obvious that there was an immediate attraction. Women could be restored to their divinity or recognise the Goddess within; all the sexual denigration could fall away.
Further, there was exposure to the rhythms and rituals of the pagan movement, and the identification of these as belonging to one's own relationship with the Goddess - and with one's own self-growth. Seasonal celebrations depended a great deal on Robert Graves' Celtic calender:24 Samhain (Halloween), Winter Solstice, Imbolc (Candlemas), Spring Equinox, May Eve, Summer Solstice, Lammas and Autumn Equinox mark the sacred points of the year. Rituals developed in the spiritual feminist movement which were created fairly spontaneously from the research available. 'Let's do that age-old ritual we invented last Friday night' said one woman in a sentence that re-echoes. They were simple ceremonies of aligning oneself with the season, with the elements, relinquishing baggage that had become inappropriate such as conflict, depression, under-valuing oneself, etc. and affirming one's hopes and identity. In such rituals goddesses were not named or invoked in any way, although someone would usually tell stories, myths and legends in perhaps a homiletic manner.
Neo-pagans however, do not care for such informal structures. Calling upon whichever tradition they have been trained to follow (and there are several), they carry out a series of rituals, attended by both women and men, which probably include invoking the 'Goddess and the God'. As the US involvement with the 'craft' spread to Goddess feminism in this country, new groups started a women-only development named the Dianic Craft. This was composed solely of women, who invoked the Goddess or Goddesses only. Training groups were set up and often included women who had been introduced to Goddess material through women's groups; in addition to those who wanted spiritual experience without political base. In fact, although some ridicule has been poured upon the latter women by feminists generally, there can be no doubt that exposure to the ideas of Goddess veneration has a marked effect in raising self-value, and providing a spiritual dimension not otherwise possible.
It is important here to mention Lesbian spirituality groups. As has been said for many women, the freeing of sexuality meant that Lesbians, heterosexuals and celibates could work together in amity. But those Lesbians who wanted their own privacy and space turned to Lesbian spirituality groups. It has been commented that such groups tend to be political, because of the social situation that Lesbians find themselves in; and they also tend to be among the few in the feminist spirituality movement which have attracted black women. (As I write in mid March 1993 I am happy to hear of a widening of interest generally by women of colour, mediated perhaps through the renewal of energy in the traditional religions.)
Of course this is a huge subject. There is no doubt that the general movement is composed of highly educated white women, though a large number live in conditions of some poverty. The early matriarchal feminists were not wholly Eurocentric in their work; and I have told elsewhere25 my own dilemma in being offered postgraduate work in which I could present a thesis on African goddesses which I refused, because I did not want to take up a 'colonialist' position - a refusal I still regret and am not sure even now, ten years later, if my decision was the right one.
In the early days, we understood there was a huge legacy of African, South American and pre-patriarchal, traditional religions and we imagined something of their influence on the European scene. But as time went on, the current shifted strongly to 'home goddesses' - those of the Celtic world, goddesses of Britain and of northern Europe and of course those embedded deeply in biblical texts. The latter were understood to be very much part of a woman's culture that had been despised and swept away, thus needing to be reclaimed. At the same tune, the material that became available from the world of scholars and other researchers bought back the Roman and Greek Goddesses and their festivals, while Diane Wolkstein's collaboration with Samuel Noah Kramer in the translations of Inanna texts26 brought this ancient Near Eastern material closely to the surface of feminist consciousness and has been much discussed and used as an experimental resource.
It is to the shame of the spiritual groups of this country that little was done to understand why so few black women joined the movement and little attention was paid to the furore in the US on this subject 27 Where such groups did form, knowledge and veneration for Goddesses from African and West Indian cultures were introduced, and interest was taken for example in the Yoruba culture following the appearance of material on this subject. At Greenham Common too, black women joined others, often, but not only in groups who had turned to Goddess spirituality as an element in their struggle against American missiles there. Various studies of the Greenham experience have been made, and common to all is emphasis that women of all ages and cultures found there a consciousness of their own power and autonomy, and this included freeing both of sexuality and of religious experience. Consequently two different, but related programmes were going on there: the first and overt activity was a political struggle against missiles and for peace in the world; the second that 'just grew', involved a forceful spiritual feminism which overlapped into the political. In fact, one of the major components of paganism, outlined by Carpenter (above), that of magic, came to the fore.
The dimension of magic in neopaganism has of course attracted much specious comment and meretricious headlines. Some explanation of its place in spiritual feminism is needed. If we return to Wicca for a moment, it is generally assumed that the word itself means to shape or to turn, and the process of magic within Wicca is, as I understand it to use our energies to shape the world - ourselves, our situation, personally and in society for the better. Prurience and scare material concerning Satanism, devil worship, 'black magic' and so on have no place here. Some women at Greenham sought to re-shape the world by calling upon and practising 'good-magic', and in the first place needed to learn what this might be and how to go about it. The works of Z. Budapest and Starhawk were much used. At the same time, people looked around to find indigenous beliefs and praxis that could help. Inexorably they moved towards the 'western tradition', which I understand to rely heavily on Celtic mythology and on mysticism, as well as strands from the Kabbalah and European magic.
A resurgence of acknowledgment of the part the witch hunts played in women's history became prevalent. If the intention of the witch hunters was to silence women, well, women have not been and will not be silenced. Patricia Beer summed up a strong current of feeling, in her poem 'The Witch'. The last lines read: 'By the light of my long burning, I will see justice done'. 28 Invoking the memories of the persecuted witches who were understood to be strong women who may or may not have been oriented towards the 'old religion' of paganism, went together with aligning oneself with the earth and seasons, 'grounding and centring'. (There is a growing literature on this subject, see book list.)
A spiritual path, indeed a religion, began to build up. Central to it was the concept of the 'Goddess' or Goddesses, many named, many, or One who contains the many; who is immanent within the world and within us all, in nature and in the universe. To reach her and thus reach our innermost selves, women must undergo some psychic training. It will include meditation, divination and the use of beneficent rituals for cleansing and purifying. Journeys of the imagination or path working on which an individual may to a lesser or greater extent travel through consciousness to reach one's deepest self, with the help possibly of spiritual guides, are important. They will be set in Goddess myth and landscape. A significant theme is the journey on which one takes an offering to Her and receives a gift - a gift one keeps and uses daily in life.
Magenta Wise, who has been a Goddess activist working through psychic methods since the early 1970s gives classes on psychic development. Her underlying philosophy is to do with the concept that 'we create much of our own problems unconsciously. Through developing intuition and by visualisation we can bring much of this to the surface, and we can then consciously decide what we want to happen. ' There are two sides to the process. Describing the first, she labels it 'getting information about the problem'. This can be done by all sorts of psychic means - developing meditation and visualization, employing divination such as Tarot, Palmistry, etc. Using path workings, one can try to identify the problem. Then, by 'giving out' one can visualize and define what one wants to happen. 29 Healing, whether physical or psychological, can be affected in this way, as can healing this planet itself. Starhawk has described in detail how similar magic has been used to attempt to change US policy in Central America and elsewhere. 30 By these means, energy is raised and its force is directed - visualized - towards the person, object or situation that requires to be healed.
It is clear that when women meet for this purpose, freeing themselves, healing themselves and others, and attempting also to direct 'good energy' into the world itself, seeing the planet as sacred and in some way as a manifestation of the Goddess, they discard their inbuilt sense of guilt and inferiority. They find strength within themselves. Their own creative faculties are reinforced and the new confidence can help them take a surer place in the world.
The Goddess and Psychotherapy
As we have proceeded on this path, it has been becoming increasingly evident that such 'magical' practices have a good deal in common with psychotherapy. Indeed post-Jungian writers Whitmont, Pereira, Neumann, Harding, Bolen, and Cashford and Baring have influenced a considerable section of the Goddess movement. Jung's theories of the collective unconscious and of timeless archetypes and of individuation of the personality allowed a mythology which brought forward ancient goddesses and gods, and in particular the Great Goddess who was understood to have existed in a wide variety of cultures. She is the Feminine who must balance the Masculine in all of us. Whitmont 31 writes, for example: 'The awakening call of the new conscience in our time is the call to selfhood or individuation, as Jung has called it. It is the call to be what you are. But Dionysus-Azazel cannot come alone. He is the god of the Feminine, the consort of the Great Goddess. She was banished with him and with him she must also return. The way of the phallus alone, without the personalizing and integretative attitude of the Feminine, its sense for wholeness and containment would fail to satisfy our growth needs' (p. 118).
In this passage we have a justification for Jung's influence on the women's spirituality movement, and also for many of us, its objectionable character. The Masculine and the Feminine are each given specific characteristics, and although the point is always made by Jungians that each personality will contain both of these categories, yet as Whitmont has pointed out (p. 142): 'male trends predominate in men, female ones in women'. These 'male' and 'female' trends suppose that the Masculine is to do with the intellectual, analytic, explicit, active, etc. and the Feminine is perceptive, receptive, sensuous, intuitive and diffuse. For myself, I reject this type of thinking as being sexist; Gloria Orenstein (1990) has recounted her own journey from Jungian ideas to an understanding of their deficiencies. In particular she makes the point that
The Jungian hypothesis of a collective unconscious. . leads to ahistorical and transpersonal conclusions that simply erase specific historic and cultural contexts. I would also argue that the Goddess image as it appears today. . . symbolizes not just nature-fertility and cosmic creation motifs, but also a new unification of women's roles, both as procreator and creator of culture (e. g. artist). The prevalence of the re-emergence of the Goddess today. . . can be seen to stand for a conscious reclamation of a world view whose ethics, spiritual values, and social organisation are deemed superior to those of today's dominating technocratic non-ecological androcratic systems (p. 20).
Much of the objection to ideas of women's spirituality and the Goddess movement has centred on the eager acceptance by many women of Jung's ideas of 'the Feminine', disregarding his own overt sexism. Many still today believe that the Feminine and thus women are more sensitive, caring, perceptive, intuitive and so on, and yield to the Masculine the areas of intellectual thought and activity in the professional world.
My opinion is that this is not only mistaken but is dangerous. There is within it, a covert sexism that, keeping traditional ideas of 'women's place', appears to allow some power and autonomy. Various forms of psychotherapy, and therapies associated with complementary and holistic medicine, have much in common with the practices to be found in neo-pagan circles, in terms of underlying hypotheses about the need for a different way of living in society and in the world at large. Of course, much help is given to people in trouble, and much understanding of one's personal problems can be achieved. However my own inclination is to agree firmly with the older feminist movement that 'the personal is the political'. Helpful methods of dealing with one's psychological and physical aches and pains should not be confused with what misogyny and sexism have done and are doing. The emergence of 'the Goddess' as a powerful force in women's consciousness should not be used to entrench them in traditional attitudes. Men can be perceptive and women can use their intellectual powers; each may have to be trained to discard ideas that they are deficient in these attributes. A move away from sentimental notions of the femininity of the Great Goddess can include information of the female divine as intellect and wisdom as a power figure in society at the very least.
Other objections to the women's spirituality and 'matriarchy' movement centre upon involvement with the occult, and the association of this with right wing politics. That Hitler and the Nazis were involved with pagan occult mythology and endeavoured to put the most androcentric version of this into practice, is becoming common knowledge as is the fact that German women of the period were, in part, seduced by the concept of their 'goddess-hood' provided it was expressed in the 'feminine' virtues. In the neo-Nazi movement and the other right wing groups in Europe today some similar tendencies have been glimpsed and are the subject of much discussion in feminist spirituality circles there. For myself, as will have become obvious, I have no great desire to work with the occult, or with magic. But it is important to distinguish between the male supremacist, genocidal, xenophobic cults which focus on hierarchy and on obtaining 'power over' the world at micro and macro levels, and holistic, ecology-minded neo-paganism. Particularly as taken up by spiritual feminists the latter becomes part of a world-view which understands that all creation is sacred, all its parts of creation are connected, and that one works towards a situation where non-aggression and 'power within' people is the norm. Possibly the fascination of occult experience and praxis overtakes gender politics among some groups, but it is very rare indeed for the women involved to forget the basic principles of achieving self-worth and throwing off the consequences of long drawn out misogyny.
The Goddess Movement and Judaism and Christianity
Readers of this journal do not need me to point to the material that encompasses feminist theologians. I will touch only briefly on the subject in this area, picking out themes that seem to me to be gathering importance.
For a long time there appeared to be little convergence between 'goddess women' and those in Judaism or Christianity who were struggling to bring about a change in their religious traditions and practice that would challenge misogyny and acknowledge the female in the divine. The original Matriarchy Study Group included one such radical Christian woman who confessed she felt uncomfortable but saw, long before many others, that there was similarity in the struggles and that there was no need to continue traditional hostilities. 32 These, of course, were based on the deeply-embedded suspicion on both sides (and in this I am able to class Jewish and Christian women together) that the 'other' camp represented the negation of the most deeply-held faith and moralities. Goddess women would point to monotheism as misogyny; those in the traditional faiths saw polytheism and paganism as worse.
To some extent, this is still the case, but the differing viewpoints have converged in a sense, in practice. Christian activists for the ordination of women found among their opponents clerics who held up Scripture and tradition to deny the female in the divine; among them were those who promulgated a kind of misogyny that would not have been amiss during the period of the witch hunts. Others, pursuing theological research found material abounding which could be seen to open up huge new areas of understanding. 33 The possibility of the female nature of God, the place of the Virgin Mary in doctrine and in popular perception, a new appreciation of the figure of Wisdom, and the possibility of a Jesus-Sophia figure, themes that could be drawn from Gnostic material, are among the many areas that showed Christian women that 'Goddess' need not be a word of fear. Jewish women joyfully met the Shekinah, re-worked Kabbalism, and in many ways introduced, particularly in the US, an attitude to Judaism that could talk freely of 'the Goddess' and carry out amended ritual and ceremonies still based upon tradition. In this country, the Ruach Chavurah movement gathered together large numbers of Jews, women and men, who had moved away from their religion. They happily saw in this new appreciation something that restored their roots appropriately today.
The major question that both divides and unites both sides has been explored by Judith Plaskow and Carol Christ in their recent compilation of essays on feminist spirituality. 34 Published in 1989 it comes over a decade after their previous collaboration 'Womanspirit Rising' 35 which inspired a whole generation of women on both sides of the Atlantic.
The new work 'Weaving the Visions' sums up in its preface one of the most important themes that presents itself to us today. Beginning with the statement that intellectual and religious commitments have drawn each of the editors away from each other during the past ten years, they say that 'Carol has now more deeply embraced the Goddess and nature spirituality, while Judith has clearly committed herself to the transformation of Judaism' (p. v). These differences, while at times extremely difficult to bear, did not stop them 'affirming friendship and mutual commitment to feminism and to the feminist transformation of religion that now spans almost twenty years'. They point out that although they no longer speak with one voice, their personal struggles 'have taught us the importance of working with and learning from differences in feminist theologies and thealogies' (p. v).
Here, I think, we have the nub of our movement today. It is possible to explore differences and to reach similar goals. Of course this raises the second great struggle, and one which is chronicled to a major extent in various issues of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion (see n. 27). This is the struggle and perception of black women, of Hispanic women and women from other world cultures, all of whom have their own experience, who properly reject white 'Anglo' didacticism, and who are struggling for their spiritual identities as part of feminist and social autonomy.
Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz writes of the struggle to name her Hispanic feminist community.
Femninistas Hispanas have been consistently marginalized in the Anglo feminist community because of our critique of its ethnic racial prejudice and lack of class analysis. Though Anglo feminists have worked to correct these serious shortcomings in their discourse, in my experience their praxis continues to be flawed.
She presents the term mujerista to describe a theology of liberation for Hispanic women which includes a religious perspective. Mujerista theology 'is a process of enablement for Hispanic women, insisting on the development of a strong moral agency and clarifying the importance of what we think and what we do'. 36
In the same 'round table', Lourdes Arguelles and Raven-Anne Rivero emphasize that a Lesbian dimension must be acknowledged and celebrated. 'Mujerista theology must not only confront heterosexism as one of the most fundamental oppressive processes bout must encourage change in fundamental attitudes concerning our place in the natural order'. 37
These Latina women in their concern for the ecology of the world speak from within Christianity, and join the critique made by such writers as Anne Primavesi 38 who seek to re-establish a more harmonious working together of all creation. The emphasis on ecology links them strongly with Christian and non-Christian women from many parts of the world who are also involved in this struggle. Although the Latinas in their material discussed do not explore a Goddess option, yet the Goddess as nature and as a means of re-establishing such harmony is an option for many. 39
We see then that the paths of those who may be called God women and 'Goddess women' who would expect to diverge in fact fall in with each other and lead in similar directions. Exploring differences but being united in vision, universality and particularity combined is the strongest trend I perceive. It may also be germane here to note that where Goddess women have in the past appropriated rituals and deities from every source available, there is now a move to condemn 'cultural theft'.
This discussion is still in its early stages. In essence it applies a 'colonialist' judgment to those who eclectically adopt whatever sacred concept or practice that appeals to them, without permission, and usually without much knowledge of its history and background. At the same time, there is also appreciation that such ideas of the sacred have much to teach us. Is the answer one of attitude, of equality and of harmony between differing groups? Of honouring the other's place, of believing in the other's integrity? 40
Today the women's spirituality movement is growing steadily, and newcomers often have little sense of its history, believing it to be more or less New Age or neo-pagan in its entirety. Happily there are some signs that with all the new scholastic research becoming available, some interest is being taken in actual sources and in the work of feminist scholars and theologians.
The advent of women's studies courses in feminist theology and spirituality (though the latter are scarce) brings the subject into the 'respectable' world of academia. Difficulties arise there since the material is so inflammatory, however handled, that the usual cool so-called objective approach is extremely difficult. However, ultimately there can be no doubt of its impact. We are at the centre of the confrontation of ideas referred to at the beginning of this paper. From the physical, to the social, from economic to the sexual, and above all in perception of the spiritual, the old ideas simply will not do. It is not a question of making improvements here and there - though these are certainly welcome. A whole new way of understanding our life together in society is being placed before us.
Sometimes it is possible to mediate changes that, while radical, still allow the establishment to stay in place - as in the case of the ordination of women rabbis and priests. But in my opinion, this too will eventually have a revolutionary effect - and to some extent the process has started.
We are looking at a new morality that declares that the mainspring of the past has been distorted to produce a mechanism that is inherently faulty. The pressure is growing for it to be taken apart, renewed, repaired and verified. This is the core of the message of the Women's Spirituality Movement.
In this overview, I have been able only to pick out some of the major concepts and practices that make up the Goddess movement in Britain today. All - and others - need to be explored in greater depths. Key questions arise in the search for women's spirituality. They concern justice, as well as a challenge to today's materialism.
We have seen that the advent of a spiritual dimension to feminism expands its parameters. Assuring women of their basic self-worth and providing historical precedent, it offers an exceptional affirmation of confidence. Younger women, in particular, who have been influenced by media denigration of feminism welcome its approach to their problems and find that it can bring earlier attitudes into new understanding.
Diverse groups from historically adversative settings find similarities, in appreciation of the need fore change in our attitudes - to our relationships, to ourselves, to other peoples of the world and to the earth itself.
The Goddess movement is still an uncharted land; no geography and no maps have been agreed. We start by challenging at least two thousand years of Western thought and action, precisely positing misogyny as underlying deficient Western civilisation and the spirituality within it. Those with their roots in the Bible as well as some who look elsewhere agree on Gen. 1. 26, 'imago dei' as a starting point. Lines from the 'Orphic Hymn to Nature' may inspire the latter group and are acceptable to most of the former. So it is in a spirit of conciliation and progress that I end my account with this ancient invocation:
Feminist Theology 5, January 1994
I am indebted to Magenta Wise who read the draft and encouraged me throughout the work, to Alex Sutherland and Daniel Cohen for their suggestions and to Daniel also for help with book research. Grateful thanks to Louise Hart and Liv Livingstone for major exploration of ideas and information and, as ever, to Robin Thodey for her encouragement as well as her help in putting the work on to a word processor. Special thanks to Lisa Isherwood who emboldened me to write this paper.
SELECTED BOOK LIST
British Pagan Tradition/Women's Spirituality
Crowley, V., Wicca: The Old Religion in the New Age (Aquarian Press, 1989).
Farrar, J. and S. Farrar, Eight Sabbats for Witches (Robert Hale, 1981).- The Witches Way (R. Hale, 1984).
Green, M., Magic for the Aquarian Age (Aquarian Press, 1981).
Hutton, R., The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy (Blackwell 1992).
Jones, P. and C. Matthews (eds.), Voices from the Circle (Aquarian Press, 1990).
King, U., Women and Spirituality: Voices of Protest and Promise (Macmillan, 1989, revised and updated, 1993).
Matthews, C., Elements of the Goddess (Element Books, 1989).
Matthews, C. (ed.), Voices of the Goddess (Aquarian Press, 1990).
Matthews, C. and J. Matthews, The Western Way (2 vols.; Arkana, 1985, 1986).
Medici, M., Good Magic (Macmillan, 1988).
Valiente, D., An ABC of Witchcraft (Robert Hale, 1974).- The Rebirth of Witchcraft (Robert Hale, 1989).
US Pagan Resources
Adler, M., Drawing Down the Moon (Viking, 1979; revised and updated, Beacon, 1986
Fox, S. (ed.), Circle Guide to Wicca and Pagan Resources (Circle: Madison, 1980).
Gawr, R. (ed.), Pagan-Occult New Age Directory (Berkeley, 1980).
The Jungan Dimension
Bolen, J., Goddesses in Everywoman (Harper & Row, 1987).
Cashford, J. and A. Baring, The Myth of the Goddess (Viklng, 1992).
Harding, B., Women's Mysteries, Ancient and Modern (Rider, 1971).
Neumann, B., The Great Mother: An Analysis of an Archetype (Princeton University Press, 1963).
Perera, S., Descent to the Goddess (Inner City Books, 1981).
Whitmont, E., Return of the Goddess (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983).
Amadiume, L, Afrikan Matriarchal Foundations: The Igbo Case (Karnak House, 1987).
Bernal, M., Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation (2 vols. ; Free Association Books, 1987 and 1991).
Gleason, J., Oya: In Praise of an African Goddess (Harper Collins, 1987). Teish, L., Jambalaya (Harper Collins, 1985).
General: Goddess Books
Gadon, B., The Once and Future Goddess (Harper & Row, 1989).
Gimbutas, M., Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (Thames & Hudson, 1982).
Long, A. P., In a Chariot Drawn by Lions: The Search for the Female in Deity (The Women's Press, 1992).
Pirani, A. (ed.), The Absent Mother: Restoring the Goddess to Judaism and Christianity (Mandala, 1991).
Starhawk, The Spiral Dance (Harper & Row, 1979).
Sjoo, M. and B. Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth (Harper & Row, 1987).
1 F. Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (London: Hamilton,1992).
2. For example, V. I. Lenin The Emancipation of Women (Moscow. Progress Publishers, 1965, V. Kolbanowski, Communist Morality (Current Books, 1947). );
3. K. Marx, 'Religion is the soul of a soulless society, the heart of a heartless nation, it is the opium of the people. ' Criticism of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1864).
4. L. Apuleius, The Golden Ass (trans. R. Graves; London: Penguin,1950), p. 269.
5. I use the word 'thealogy' in common with increasing practice among feminist theologians. Carol Christ notes in her introduction to Laughter of Aphrodite (1987), p. xvii that the term (which of course derives from Greek thea meaning goddess) was first suggested by Naomi Goldenberg.
6. C. P. Christ, 'Why Women Need the Goddess'; M. Stone, 'The Three Faces of Goddess Spirituality'; both in the journal Heresies: The Great Goddess, NY (Spring 1978), pp. 8-l3 and 2-4 respectively.
7. M. Sjoo, 'The Ancient Religion of the Great Cosmic Mother of All' (privately published 1975). See also M. Sjoo and B. Mor, The Great Cosmic Mother, Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987).
8. (London, 1978).
9. P. Henderson, 'Matriarchal Values in Maori Culture', in Politics of Matriarchy', pp. 5O-54.
10. 'Homeric Hymn XXX', in M. J. Vermaseren, Cybele and Attis (London: Thames & Hudson, 1977), p. 9.
11. I have discussed this theme in detail in my book, In a Chariot Drawn by Lions (London: The Women's Press, 1992).
I2 R. Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987). G. Orenstein, The Ref1owering of the Goddess (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1990); M. Gimbutas, Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe (Thames and Hudson, 1982).
13. Circle Network News 46 Winter 92/93), pp. 14-22.
14. D. D., Carpenter, 'Spiritual Contours of the Contemporary Pagan world View', in Circle above.
15. D. D. Carpenter, 'Spiritual Contours of the Contemporary Pagan World View'.
16. Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark (Beacon Press, 1982), pp. 8-9.
17. D. D. Carpenter, 'Spiritual Contours'.
18 K. Starnes, 'The Divine in Witchcraft', p. 19, in Circle above.
19. Z. Budapest, The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries (2 vols.; Oakland, CA, 1982) and other works by this author.
20. See book list.
21. M. A. Murray, The Witch Cult in Western Europe (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1921) and others by this author.
22. S. McBride, 'Images of the Goddess and God', p. 20.
23. R. Asher, 'Tantra Wicca: Drawing down the Gods through Sexual Ecstasy', p. 20.
24. R. Graves, The White Goddess (London: Faber & Faber, 1948), passim.
25. A. Long, Letter: From the Flames, 8 Winter, 1992-93), p. 20.
26. D. Wolkstein and S. N. Kramer, Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth (New York: Harper & Row, 1983).
27. Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 5. 1 (Spring 1989); 5. 2 (Spring 1992) and 8. 2 (Fall 1992).
28. Collected Poems (Carcanet Press, 1988).
29. M. Wise, video 'How to read the Tarot cards'.
30. Starhawk, Truth or Dare (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), pp. 18-19. The concepts of 'power over' and 'power from within' have become currency in feminism and in the alternative culture. Starhawk's description (Dreaming the Dark, 1982, p. 3) contrasts power-over, which is domination' ultimately the power of the gun and the bomb with 'the power, we sense in a seed. . . we feel writing, weaving, working. . . ' She points out the latter has more to do with the Latin root podere 'to be able'. It is, she says, the power that comes from within which can also be understood as spirit, or even immanence. It is in utter contrast to domination.
31. E. Whitmont, Return of the Goddess (Routledge & Kegan Paul,
33. A full bibliography is available in my book Chariot (see book list).
34. C. P. Christ and J. Plaskow (eds.), Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (New York: Harper & Row, 1989).
35. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
36. A. D. Isasi-Diaz, 'Mujeristas: Who We are and What We are About', Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 8. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 105-106.
37. L. Arguelles and R.-A. Rivero, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 8. 1 (Spring 1992), pp. 122-23.
38. A. Primavesi, From Apocalypse to Genesis; Ecology, Feminism and Christianity (London: Burns & Oates, 1991).
39. See for example the moving account of the work of Indian women and the goddess of the forests in Shiva, Vandana. Staying Alive (San Francisco: Zed books, 1988).
40. This discussion is currently taking place in issues of From the Flames, a small journal produced by a Women's Spirituality Group in Nottingham. On a much larger scale the whole spectrum of reciprocity and appropriation was made visible and discussed in depth in a session of the Women and Religion Section at the 1991 Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Religion. The papers presented there are published in the Fall 1992 issue of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 6.