Ringing the Changes of the Goddess
"She changes everything she touches - and everything she touches changes"
A treasury of books has been opened to us this autumn.
Their themes - in the area of reclaiming and renewing consciousness about the Goddess cultures of the past, and the effects that their rediscovery has on us today - are no longer novel. Since the late sixties and early seventies such explorations have been made, and many of us are making our own related journeys. But there is now, as the decade opens, a certain tang or flavour which might presage a 'nineties' understanding that has filled out from the painful groundbreaking of the earlier decades. A younger generation takes for granted the discoveries of twenty years earlier, and wants to move on; those of us involved over what seems to be the major part of a lifetime begin to open up our boundaries (I hope) and assimilate and comprehend the new climate.
The books reviewed here are only a few that bring us the view from a new turn of the kaleidoscope.
Gloria's book is, for me, one of the most important to be written, and most topical, in the are of women's spirituality today. She is writing for the nineties, for women (and men) who have some knowledge and experience of our renewed and renewing Goddess consciousness, but also for those who come to it new and were not part of the seventies and eighties explorations in this area. Merlin Stone, who writes the foreword, believes that this book "will eventually be regarded as one of the most important and prophetic books of our time".
What makes it so impressive? It is in two parts. The first outlines Gloria's own vision, the second researches and chronicles and comments on the work of women, both in the visual arts and in literature, who have expressed the Goddess within themselves and as they have experienced Her - often women not part of the current 'movement', who have been labelled as 'mad', 'crazy', and have often been persecuted by families and society for their vision.
The author uses the phrase "feminist-matristic" rather than "matriarchal" or "woman-centred". Thus she is not just referring to a gender-shift (important though that is); it embraces an entire shift of values. She writes: "The contemporary feminist matristic vision honours all life-creative, life-enhancing values, and while it does not privilege women over men, it affirms both women and men in all these life-nurturing, life-supporting capacities" (p. xvi). I am reminded of the "Matriarchal Manifesto" of Politics of Matriarchy back in 1979, where we spelled out what we thought the world could be like if we moved away from a patriarchal culture.
Gloria emphasises that in the images of the Goddess as creator no distinction is drawn between woman as a creator of nature and woman as a creator of culture. This understanding is so necessary today when two highly divergent viewpoints sometimes mysteriously coincide. One is the derogatory tone of the patriarchal scholar describing as a 'fertility figure' any goddess symbol or image, emphasising that 'fertility' is 'merely' about procreation. Thus, in his view, it is not worth mentioning except in terms of sociology or anthropology, and is certainly nothing to do with spiritual or 'higher' matters, which are the province of the male. The other is the voice of the woman who has experienced rejection and derision of her intuitive visions by patriarchy, particularly in the academic realm, and so has turned to the idea of sacred motherhood and the physicality of the female, and of spiritual and physical intuition divorced from the intellect. Such a woman sees the intellect and the experience of active participation in a so-called 'objective' but actually prejudiced world as a waste of her energy.
Gloria points out that the Goddess symbol reminds women that our legitimate history has been buried, that women's creation was in the past not just procreation but was also cosmic and artistic. Women as creators have been forgotten, but as knowledge of the immense input by women into the creation of history and civilisation becomes more known through the work of feminist scholars vast changes in politics and consciousness will be inevitable. The basic patriarchal ideas concerning society will be corrected, in particular the belief that it is the male who is not only the creator God but the creator of all knowledge, science, art, and civilisation. This change in ideas she describes as a "cultural renaissance"; in reclaiming our early matristic heritage we make a vast alteration in our physical, sexual, and social connections with each other. In addition, Gloria sees that such a matristic vision also involves a new understanding of our spiritual, magical, intuitive connections with each other, the earth, and the divine. It is important that the intellect, the spirit, and the body work together to create a new culture and change the culture we have had foisted on us.
The major second part of the book uncovers the work of women artists throughout the world in this century, visual, written, and oral. Storytelling, as well as 'literature', works by well-known artists and those who have previously been forgotten, are brought forward and put into the context of women's power, women's culture, women's spirituality. So many died early, in despair; others survived almost unnoticed. This is a tremendous account of their work and their creation, and the effect of understanding it is to cause us to look again at ourselves and empower us to know that we are not mad. Women's methods, visions, ways of using our minds and spirits and bodies, must come to be seen as the needed elements for society - indeed for the planet itself - to be healed and restored.
This book's polemic may cause it to be a source of controversy and possible reproach in the feminist spirituality movement, but I want to praise it for its marvellous and much needed original research. Janet's theme is of the sun as goddess, and she has assembled material from many regions, cultures, and periods which make wonderful reading and add to our sources of Goddess knowledge. Janet feels that the common association of the moon as feminine and the sun as masculine leads to a position where the more important is deemed male; that is, the more active, the more orderly, the more effective in the world. This re-emphasises the passivity and fickleness of the moon relationship of women and the Goddess. She is impelled to refute this concept as undermining a feminist position. She suggests that the feminine solar tradition has been suppressed, in the interests of either a patriarchal subordination of the female, or of a refusal by spiritual feminists to take on 'solar' intellect, activity, and science.
My feelings are that she has allowed her passion on this matter to distort her judgment, and particularly to attack current feminist writers who have inspired and empowered their readers. But then may we not have reached a 'coming of age' in which we are now able to dispute with each other (though I would wish not quite so bitterly)? Certainly the points she raises needs answering. I feel she dismisses too easily the power of imagination, intuition and even "fickleness", and that she depends too much on what is becoming an outmoded view of science as being definable and knowing all the answers. Having said that, I want to repeat my assertion at the beginning: she has done marvellous research and we are indebted to her for it. Too many writers peel off second- and third-hand material without assessing or researching it further. Janet has done the opposite. She has diligently sought original sun goddess myths from the whole world, and despite our pain at her attacks we must be grateful to her. I am sure that the work will become a resource for us all, including the promotion of discussion - hopefully without rancour - of the major theme of solar/lunar Goddess associations and their possible meanings. This is a well-produced important book, beautifully illustrated by Janet herself.
This writer has long been making available his comprehensive knowledge of Goddess mythology and cultures. We are indeed indebted to him yet again. The Year of the Goddess uses much of the material of the author's previous Juno Covella, and provides a day by day year-round account of festivals and rites associated with goddess religions for each day. Compared with Juno Covella, the new book presents interesting illustrations at the expense of fullness of written material. This time we are given an index, - its lack in the previous book was much felt. The differences between the books mean that it is well worth having both. This book is a great resource, which can be used to create imaginal journeys which are authentic in atmosphere as well as for practical research. We have to be careful to assess the material provided. The author gives his sources, which are eclectic, and leaves it to us to make what we wish of them. I am deeply grateful to him for his work.
The author is a lecturer in the department of classics at the University of Southern California, and this book is evolved from her doctoral dissertation on Indo-European Female Figures. I am enormously pleased that we have it. She has used her knowledge and information gathering facilities as an academic as well as her own spiritual belief and power to produce material that is very welcome to those who are unable to reach primary sources.
She provides translations of actual hymns, invocations, descriptions, prayers, and rituals, and also points to the original languages. She tells the myths from many sources, and links them with visual material that appertains to them. Tremendous power is generated by this combination of authentic text and illustration with accessible description. While for so long it was generally believed that there was very little actual Goddess information, and that what there was had been distorted by patriarchy, we can now see that there is a vast treasure-house of information which we can call upon for our own particular needs. We can make our own connections, and delve and seek out our own journeys with so much more richness than before. Those who go inwards for their knowledge may find reflections of it in this book.
© Asphodel P. Long (Wood and Water 34, Winter Solstice 1990)