Britain and Ireland School of Feminist Theology Annual conference. Dublin July 1996
"Even the seasoned scholar is often surprised to discover the Great Goddess here and there, almost everywhere, changing from one cultural flower into another..."
Panos D. Bardis (1988:89)
I am very happy to be here in holy Ireland, which seems to me to be a very proper place in which to explore my theme today: the theme of "the goddess - the one or the many". It has been on my mind for some time as I see the general misunderstandings and occasional war of words developing among people who truly might find much in common with each other if they looked beyond conventional meanings of words. In particular I have been helped to get a hold on the subject by the theme of this conference: Being Women: Ways of Knowing, since it is precisely only now that some exploration of our ways of knowing anything about this phenomenon are beginning to appear. I believe there is no general consensus today on what the term "the goddess" actually means between those using it, and those hearing or reading it.
In this paper I will discuss the various viewpoints on this theme that I have encountered in my two decades of goddess activism. This is only a very first stage towards clearing the ground before attempts to construct a definition can be started; but I hope the conclusions may help towards reconciling people of different traditions and so release energy for fulfilment of our common hopes and struggles.
There are a number of ways of understanding the meaning of the term "the Goddess". The first, which I will address in some detail since it is perhaps the most contentious, is that of a single supreme universal deity recognised and acknowledged as female. This deity, so the concept goes, is the female equivalent of God, and replaces him as the sole and Supreme Creator. In this scheme, 'he', who is nominally stated to be without gender, has until the near present been addressed and recognised solely in masculine language, which coloured and distorted the place of women in the three monotheistic religions and in Western culture and society generally. 'She' is the ancient Mother Goddess who in various forms and by various names was worshipped by humans through a huge span of time from the palaeolithic age until the establishment of monotheism in the Western world; then apparently defeated for about 1500 years, she is returning today in full force. As in other understandings of the term which I will discuss later, she is a goddess for women, and for men who will hear her, a goddess who will save not the individual's soul but, with the help of her adherents, the planet itself. She offers an alternative vision of female divinity, asserting the sacrality of nature, and rescuing women's bodies and biology from the animosity of inherited Western religious ideas. However different the character of her message from that of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, one over-arching element remains the same: this view of "the Goddess" essentially casts Her as the mirror image of God in that she is the One and Only.
This perception is gaining strength, paradoxically enough, as a response to the challenges to it that are coming from academics, particularly directed towards the work of the Lithuanian-American archaeologist Marija Gimbutas. This scholar who died recently is, it appears, being transformed into an icon by a growing number of followers. Because of their wish to defend her against what they believe to be patriarchal vilification, and also because of an undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in the goddess movement, such women take up a fundamentalist pro-Gimbutas stance. It is worth while taking a little time to look at Gimbutas's work.
She was born in 1921 in Lithuania, and arrived in the USA after the second world war with a doctorate in archaeology. Her specialism became the prehistory and culture of South East Europe and she quickly reached distinguished status, for many years enjoying the acclaim of her peers; then, in 1974 she published "Gods and Goddesses of Old Europe" which moved into the popular field and started a change of direction that eventually attracted much criticism. At the same time it had an immediate effect on the birthing goddess movement. She coined the phrase Old Europe which described (I quote) "a pre-Indo-European culture ...matrifocal and probably matrilinear, agricultural and sedentary, egalitarian and peaceful...(It was) characterised by a dominance of women in society and worship of a Goddess incarnating the creative principle as Source and Giver of All. In this culture the male element... represented spontaneous and life-stimulating, but not life generating, powers". (Gimbutas 1974/1982:9). When the book was reprinted eight years later, she had changed the title to "Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe", to emphasise the priority of the female. This matrifocal way of life was broken up, she declared, by a male dominated war-oriented proto-Indo-European culture invading from the East between 4500 and 2500 BCE. She writes: "during the period the female deities, or more accurately the Goddess Creatrix in her many aspects were largely replaced by predominantly male divinities of the Indo -Europeans". (ibid)
This scenario has been widely and forcefully criticised, and I will have more to say on this later. Also I would like you to remember the phrase "the female deities, or more accurately the Goddess creatrix in her many aspects" as we shall be discussing it in more detail. For the moment I will stay with Gimbutas.
With these two books, the original and its revised edition, and later with two monumental works, "The Language of the Goddess"(1989) and "The Civilisation of the Goddess"(1991) she presented her material idiosyncratically. A wonderful collection of images from prehistoric south east Europe was labelled not only in terms of goddesses but also in terms of exactly what function such deities performed or symbolised. Thus some were life-giving, others symbolised death and regeneration, yet others energy and unfolding. While her pictures are magnificent and their provenance precisely recorded she provided little or no explanation or authentication of her assertions of their significance.
It is obvious that such methodology would draw criticism; Gimbutas was attacked by fellow archaeologists for her lack of precision, and uncorroborated speculations, particularly in view of her earlier esteemed scholarly work. Conventional academic challenges to her views on prehistoric invasions of South East Europe became overlaid with irritation at her Golden Age speculations. These provoked widespread vexation and concern. Her colleagues started to disown her, although at her death some two years ago, they paid her lavish and sincere tribute for all her earlier work. On our own ground, feminist theologian Pam Lunn in discussing golden age theories urged us to beware of "depending on images of the past to validate or uphold present aspirations; in that way we make ourselves vulnerable to any re-evaluation of history which may undermine our present view, or trapped in an eccentric backwater of quaint beliefs." (1993:35).
Recently, feminist archaeologists have entered the scene, and here the picture changes. Lynn Meskell in a wide ranging survey of Gimbutas's goddess theories (1995a&b) deplored the renewing of nineteenth century matriarchal universalist concepts which today could not bear examination. She questions what she calls "the deployment of an archaeological past to bring about social and political change in the late 20th century"(1995b:1) and concludes it cannot be justified as such; but she makes the point that we may understand it as a form of mythopoetics whereby a cultural identity is constructed or reconstructed. She remarks: "Most images and artefacts are borrowed, if not appropriated, and with them their contexts meanings and symbologies have been transformed or lost completely. The drive for Western colonisation of ancient territory continues... it would seem that mythopoetics as a genre has an inherent structure which not only makes the past a more habitable place, but a reassuring archetype which potentially provides the model for the next millennium. The past is not only a foreign country... it is our way back to the future". (1995b:8-9) I find this perception extremely helpful as it indicates ways of knowing not immediately obvious but full of promise.
Feminist archaeologists Margaret Conkey and Ruth Tringham (1995) while offering a profound critique of Gimbutas's methods and some of her conclusions observe that "just as an enquiry into the revival of goddess religion provides important new perspectives on some crucial feminist concerns, an enquiry into the revival of goddess religions (also) provides important new perspectives on archaeological concerns." (1995:200) Their analysis, sparked by their examination of Gimbutas's theories goes on to challenge the androcentric structure of their discipline of archaeology and the outlook of many of its professionals. The authors write: "we have come to see that our enquiry is just as much about key issues in contemporary archaeological interpretation as seen through the topic of the Goddess as it is about how the Goddess movement uses archaeology"(ibid). They conclude that archaeology must be engaged with feminist thinking and that "what once seemed apparent cry out for explanation" (1995:23O). Although they take issue with Gimbutas on most of her assertions, they find that the paradigm shift to which she has largely contributed is valid and forceful.
One is left feeling that the contribution Gimbutas has made is immense, if not in the ways that she herself thought of as her prime concerns. As happened with her contemporary feminist researchers into women's prehistory and history - I think of Elizabeth Gould Davis with her book The First Sex, or Evelyn Reed, in Women's Evolution, - both published in the mid-70s, attacked as full of errors and later disregarded, - whole areas of Gimbutas may have been misguided, idiosyncratic, possibly even just plain wrong in a number of assertions, certainly disputed and apparently lacking in scholarly precision (at least in her later works,) but she - and they - were crucial to the birth and growth of feminist spirituality, feminist religious scholarship, and the liberation that the implications of the female divine can bring to women everywhere. She - and these other - writers opened up for women a way of knowing that now can never be turned aside, no matter what errors or faults can be established. For myself, I regret the Gimbutas methodology. But she has helped unlock for me and for many other women an arena of space in which I could find myself, could escape from androcentric mind as well as body binding and have the freedom to explore my female strength. Dancing in that arena I feel I can offer an explanation of Gimbutas's later atypical non-scholastic method. For ten years she struggled with cancer, both the illness itself and its ruthless therapies; in and out of hospital, of chemo- and radiotherapies, she had an enormous sense of urgency. The message she had for women had to be written produced and published against the terminal clock. It was amazing that she succeeded in her massive work, but agonising that she must have felt she hadn't the time or energy to do the scholastic apparatus. I know that in the end it seems to have become counter-productive because there is no straightforward answer to the criticisms; yet also in the end she inspired us to a way of knowing that empowers us. We need not believe in golden age matriarchies, or even in dominant females, though I would like some more evidence for that more egalitarian society that we dream of. The paradigm shift, the shift in the ways of knowing, has opened up new spheres for women's advance, not only in spirituality but as Conkey and Tringham have shown, in recognising and reviewing the androcentrism of their own disciplines.
Now I would like to address some other perceptions surrounding the idea of the goddess. In my survey for the journal Feminist Theology (Jan. 1994) I listed a number of different meanings that the term has had for women during the last two decades. I showed that for many years the thought of defining the goddess did not arise. She was any or all goddesses from all sources; above all, she represented divinity for women: we were not be dispossessed of it as we had been for so long. I wrote then "what is not important is whether the goddess is a supreme deity or is one deity.... the goddess is a synonym for women's newly regained self-worth. Women can now cry out: 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 or subordinate. One woman summed it up for me when she said that coming across this material was like a pinhole in the darkness." (1994:15)
I stay with that perception. The goddess as a symbol, of women's self-worth has been widely propounded, from Carol Christ (1978:8-13) to Melissa Raphael who has recently written a powerful book (1996) on women's bodies as divine incarnation. There is a consensus that women gain empowerment through a goddess consciousness, no matter what the thealogy, doctrinal statement or other description. It is only recently that the movement towards goddess monotheism has taken shape to any large extent, and I believe this to be due to the later influence of Gimbutas. Certainly Monica Sjoo, an early goddess activist in Britain has talked about the religion of the great cosmic mother over a long period, and her book of this name, written with Barbara Mor (1987) has been very influential. In it the authors move over vast continents and eras, naming goddesses of all kinds and places. To the reader, the idea comes most powerfully that the creatrix goddess has myriad names and domains, and the thealogy of whether she is one alone, of whether she is in different forms, or is any other variation of this theme' is not discussed.
Recently however interest is being taken in this subject. An American scholar, Cynthia Eller, in her book "Living in the Lap of the Goddess" (1995) has named feminist spirituality as one of the most rapidly growing religious movements in the United States. Taking up the theme of Who is the Goddess? she describes the difficulty in deciding whether to use the singular or the plural when referring to the female divine (1995:132). To the question do you believe in a goddess, offered to selected lists of women identifying as interested in women's spirituality, she often received the reply: "I believe in many goddesses", but in subsequent conversation the respondents would persist in using the singular noun "the goddess". She writes: "Clearly both the goddess and many goddesses are realities for most spiritual feminists", and quotes one of her respondents who said "I don't make those kind of distinctions that you hear about, they don't make sense to me. You can say its the Great Goddess and that's the one Goddess but she's also all of the many goddesses and that's true. And she is everywhere, she's immanent in everything...even in an animistic context. I think certain objects can embody that force and power. So I worship the great goddess and I'm polytheistic and pantheistic and monotheistic too."(1995:132-133)
This is a way of knowing the goddess that suits a number of women. In a discussion in the magazine Wood and Water (1996 53:2-3), my questioning of goddess monotheism under the title "the One or the Many" was answered by Ruth Green (1996: 54:4-7) who described her perception of this subject. She refers to the Goddess redressing the imbalance caused by the male religions, and then as the life giver, and at first opts for the Oneness of the female deity. "She is the source of all life, the mother of all living... this is the concept of oneness of unity, that it is all part of the same thing, infinitely diverse but not separate" she writes. (1996.54:9) Ruth goes on to describe the diversity within creation which has caused the existence of many goddesses - each one expresses and focuses on a different attribute. Each goddess links mundane human life with the spiritual and the divine and provides a focus we can relate to. In the end Ruth opts for acknowledging many deities while looking for the underlying unity, expressed as feminine. This she says leads to tolerance and acceptance of difference and aids the possibility of living harmoniously with the rest of the human race and in balance with all life forms. It will be seen that her response includes a feeling for a bigger area than the individual: for her - and indeed for Cynthia Eller's interviewee quoted earlier - a perception of the goddess is not confined to one's own spirituality but extends to ways of living in society and our relationship with the varied life of this earth.
Many women involved in goddess spirituality identify as pagan or neo-pagan and a useful description of what this might mean is described by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick. In their History of Pagan Europe (1995) they write: " At the end of the twentieth century the indigenous religions of Europe, nature-venerating, polytheistic and recognising deities of both genders have re-emerged and are being re-integrated into the modern world... dedicated to reaffirming what are seen as feminine values embodied in the figure of an often unnamed great goddess and the sanctity of the earth which is seen as being destroyed by unbridled technology. A nature god, an image of unspoiled masculinity is usually taken as a partner of the goddess in this more loosely defined pantheon. Their interaction is seen as offering an image of equal and complementary polarity rather than one of hierarchy and domination" (1995: 219/200.) It is necessary to remark here that European perceptions of Wicca, one of the major pagan religions, differs from those in the USA. In Europe Wicca offers scope to both sexes, is not feminist and calls upon a revised tradition of what is usually named the "Old Religion". In the US, Wicca has in some circles been re-invented in order to be associated with feminist spirituality (Goldenburg:1979) and often is defined as women-only. Both forms use the term witches and there is no scope here to discuss this except to point out that again there is no consensus on what is meant by the word 'witch'.
Turning to ideas associated with goddess spirituality, Lynn Meskell warns us of essentialism, biologism and privileging the female (1995b:4), and Melissa Raphael (Jan.1995:85-105) wants spiritual feminists to look at evil in the world and construct a Goddess theory to meet it. She speaks of justice and in that respect, I must bring in one more witness, albeit from a very different part of the woods.
Richard Grigg has written on the transformation of American religion, naming his book When God becomes Goddess (1995). He argues that God has left the stage of history; modern communications showing us daily comprehensive evil in all its aspects happening on both macro and micro levels throughout the world have made the problems of theodicy impossible to tolerate. In conventional religion, God has now become a private matter for the believer; the relationship is between individual and deity. By contrast, feminist theology asserts what he calls "enactment theology": not only does a vision of female deity require a righting of wrongs and justice on a universal scale, the theology required is an enactment theology, where the human being chooses to enact the divine. This is to actualise the self's creative powers at the same time as the self is formed by something else. The divine, he says, is something that human beings decide to enact. `In particular, he writes, " because God/ess is a relation we enact, divine being is radically immanent.... in so far as the cosmic matrix or power of being is one of the constituent elements of the realisation that is God/ess we can say that God/ess is the source of our existence and she maintains us in existence. The larger relationship is a source of meaning and a focus of commitment so that it is possible to say that God/ess is the source and the sustainer of our being in that fuller sense that includes our consciousness of purpose" (1995:65). I understand from this that in this way, God/ess takes over from God the power of intervening in history and of being committed to a larger purpose than that of the individual. Grigg declares that this view of God/ess is what he calls "the future of God". God/ess is not relegated to the private sphere, and if God is to be rescued from that he must embrace the Goddess of feminist theology. Here again, Goddess theology is understood to be more than an individual's salvation or self-empowerment: it has to do with each person's work in the universe and in her community. Goddess in her shape of enactment theology sends women out in the world to do justly and to love mercy. One cannot help noticing the extreme irony of this: the prophets of old may be turning in their graves. Goddess has come to the rescue of the biblical God of our fathers.
We have seen that there are different ways of "knowing" a female deity, and deciding what we mean when we use the words the goddess. . For myself, the statement that chimes most with my own experience is that quoted by Cynthia Eller, her respondent telling her that there is no real distinction between one goddess or many. During the twenty or so years I have been working in goddess feminism the term the Goddess has been used - and indeed used by myself as well as almost everybody else - in exactly the sense described. The words are a shorthand way of saying that women can have a close relationship with the divine. Cynthia Eller has commented that her interviewees show that there are what she calls a "generous mixture of theisms". Some people believe there are separate goddesses who are unconnected; others that the relationship between the deities is closer - for example they take or inherit each other's names - but many spiritual feminists believe there is One goddess who manifests in different forms. Eller notes that a quick review of titles of thirty two books on female deities indicates the prevalence of some type of modified monotheism in existing spirituality; twenty five titles refer to the goddess in the singular, while only seven are explicitly plural (goddesses). She notes that it is particularly telling that even books containing hard-hitting critiques of monotheism refer to a singular goddess in their titles. (1995:133)
Now from my point of view, this is what I should expect, and in fact to some extent I allowed it to happen to me. When I referred in the title of my book, (1992) to the search for the female in deity, I did not think of one deity or many deities. I thought of the idea of deity, and in this I believe there may be an answer to our problem, and I will spend a little time on this.
We need to return first to the basics of feminist theology. All of us at this conference, whatever our background, are here because we are questioning, and many of us have rejected totally, the conventional religious view of the status of women. We question our subordinate place in the traditional religions. Many of us have read and been inspired by the work of feminist theologians- Rosemary Ruether and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza come immediately to mind. I have been totally moved by the work of Schussler Fiorenza and have shared her formula describing the hermeneutics of suspicion and celebration with numbers of enthusiastic women. (Eliz. Schussler Fiorenza 1984:15-18). As the BISFT/Lampeter introduction to feminist theology certificate courses outlines, (Isherwood, L.& McEwan D.1994) we question man as the norm, as the pinnacle, as the expression of the divine: we consider the damage done by the church fathers to women's inner feelings of self worth, and we look in our own experience and that of other women for means to re-empower ourselves. Many of us are concerned with revisioning the traditional religions, others feel they can no longer stay with them.
The goddess for many many women, spiritual feminists, at all places on the spectrum from Jewish and Christian to all-out pagan has come to mean women's relationship with divinity. She is One, She is many, She is us, She is me, She is you. She is the Supreme, the Great Goddess, the All Mother, and yet she is found in the animals in the woods and fields, she is the rocks and stones, the grass and the harvest. Each grain of wheat is her; she is any or all of these and of the whole of nature. Is she one or many? Can we tell?
To recognise the goddess means that we women are not divided from, not cut away from, not denied divinity. We can say the names of Goddesses - Anat, Aphrodite, Artemis, Assase Yaa, Asherah, Amaterasu - to start with some of those beginning with A. As I am in Ireland, I must move on in the alphabet to pay my respects to Brigit, Banba and the Old Woman of Beare and I look forward to hearing more about these and other goddesses of this land later in this conference.
Such names begin to remind us that all over the world and certainly throughout written history, there are texts, myths and legends to tell us that the female has been acknowledged as divine as well as the male. They help us to throw off the guilt and shame of being women that has been passed down to us through the western religions. Certainly we are faced with problems. For example Hindu women today still worship goddesses but have a very hard time in their daily lives in a male supremacist society. But even today Hindu women feel linked with the goddesses as earlier models of women's power. Indira J.Parikh and Pulin K.Garag (1989) describe interviews where Indian women talk of the power of female Shakti the source of life, and of Lakshmi goddess of plenty. They also reverence the warrior goddess - Kali and Durga, each related to and possibly parts of each other. These authors suggest that women lost their social status over time, but their earlier identity patterns are symbolised by the goddesses and have never completely disappeared (1995: 82).
The theme of the One and the Many, sometimes posed as the One-and-the-Many in Hindu religion, is discussed by a number of authors in a recent collection investigating the Goddess/ Goddesses of India (Hawley, J.S. & Wulff, D.M., eds. 1996). It appears that the One merges into the Many, and vice-versa. Hawley (1996:1-2) refers to "a determined assault on the very history of Western religion ...to discover at its origins a Goddess who was widely worshipped before the champions of patriarchy suppressed her" and compares this with the religious life of Hindus today "where there is no need to resuscitate the Great Goddess". He points to the multiplicity of goddesses, and describes the emergence of new ones into popular culture. It is argued that the Goddess is both a unity and various: sometimes she "spreads herself across the landscape and becomes specific to each place she touches...in some sense the Goddess is our world in a way that God is not. Hence the multiple forms she takes are connected in a way that strikes us as more intimate than those we typically project when we understand the divine as male" (ibid). Throughout the collection a similar theme re-occurs. The One and the Many are the same and are different. They co-exist in Hindu consciousness of the female divine. Coburn.T.B. (1996:31) refers to the "oneness and the manyness that we observe in Hindu conceptions of Devi [Goddess]" and later (1996:44) remarks "In anthropological terms to speak of Devi as a generic Hindu deity is ...often problematic, for her identity is always strongly coloured by local custom".
So here I am inclined to speculate that western women reclaiming ancient goddesses and Indian women worshipping those still part of their religion have something in common: they see themselves not cut off from the divine, but very much part of it. The idea of Devi, of Goddess, of goddesses have this in common, I believe: we know the female to be divine, and if divinity is a universal force out there somewhere, we know ourselves to be part of that, just as much as we know their own bodies and minds and spirits are divine. I believe that this is actually what is meant by "the goddess": that this is a way of knowing divinity in ourselves, our female selves, who have for so long been denied this concept. It emphasises that women are full partners in the universal divine - however that divine is envisaged.
But here in the West, we can no longer leave it there. The very strength and increasing growth of the goddess movement and its diversity, and the interest of academics both in it and outside it who are contributing greatly to resources and information available, have brought questions and challenges that must be taken seriously. The time when one could say "the goddess" and know that all your hearers would understand you is past. Archaeologists and numbers of other scholars in the various disciplines of pre-history and history are putting much time and work into showing that figurines from the stone ages onwards cannot be accepted straightforwardly as goddesses, and that there is little evidence to support the concept of a single ancient mother goddess reigning even in different forms and under different names from before the Ice Ages to relatively modern history (e.g. Hutton, Ronald 1992).
My feeling is that interesting and useful though their work is on its own terms, it has been caught up in a sort of contra-Gimbutas fever and has not been aware of the theological scope of the problem. I would like to see more cross-disciplinary meeting between feminist thealogians, / theologians, and archaeologists and historians; and some input from poets as well. Carol Christ has moved along the path of this journey, first as an academic, then moving to Greece and interacting with goddess mythology and spirituality and now claiming both her newly learned insights and her scholarly methods. In her most recent work (1996) she writes: "Feminist analysis reveals that scholarship that has been presented to us as 'objective' 'analytical', 'dispassionate', 'disinterested' and 'true', is in fact rooted in irrational and distorted assumptions. The implicit passion of male-centred scholarship is the preservation of patriarchy, of elite male power... Feminists...know that there is no dispassionate disinterested scholarship. We know our scholarship is passionate, is interested, is aimed at transforming the world we have inherited. There our first task as scholars must be to deconstruct the myth of objectivity and to provide alternatives to it." (1996:28)In asking us all not to give up our standards of scholarship and also to remember that conventional academe is as tendentious as any engaged researcher into goddess material, she demands that we create new standards, fulfilling all the best criteria but not falling into the trap of a male dominated paradigm. I find her message particularly helpful, and in this connection I would like to conclude by a few personal remarks.
I have been teaching and sharing material on this subject with women for a long time; I reached university late in life, after my so-called retirement and read theology in order to find the tools for research. I came early to the goddess movement, as a feminist, seeking to challenge the conventional wisdom that women had always been subordinate, that the divine had always been recognised in the masculine gender.
I come from a Jewish home, and gave up religious observance when I was 16. However, from childhood onwards I have encountered and fought anti-semitism, and more lately in its more respectable name of Christian anti-Judaism. For the past twenty years I have found my path in sharing with women my research and my insights into goddess history/herstory, in rejoicing with them when they feel the burden of guilt is being lifted from them, and sharing their pain and anger when they realise how for so long they have been misled and deluded. I have been for my own enjoyment fascinated, in so far as I am able, by textual research, and finding evidence of ancient goddesses in the literature of my own background religion and in Christianity. I have found that scholarly research does no harm to spiritual sensitivities but rather enhances them. Finding hymns, odes, rubrics, prayers to the goddess - whichever goddess it may be - together with some indication of ritual has been very exciting and moving. For example the story of the making of cakes for the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah 44 is much enhanced for me by coming across the document of about the same period from the Phoenician North African coast which lists 'the wages for the bakers of loaves for the Queen of Heaven.'(Long 1992:127)
In coming to feminist theology proper, I have been both dismayed and comforted at the interface between the Jewish and Christian traditions. Dismayed because what Katharine von Kellenbach (1994) has described as anti-Judaism in feminist religious writings is so prevalent and I do take this opportunity of pleading with all here to look at current material on this subject. A number of feminist scholars have shown that traditional dismissal of Jewish women at the time of Jesus as being of little account and in a sort of Victorian seclusion and dependency is probably quite inaccurate, and the perception of Jesus as the liberator of such women has to be rethought thoroughly. There is much else on this theme which cannot be brought into play at this moment, but I feel I must bring it to your attention.
I am comforted by meeting Christian feminists who are determined to acknowledge the past, and the present, as sources of pain for Jews and this in itself helps heal the wounds between us. To return to the goddess. I must pay tribute to Mary Grey (April 1993:4-11) who as a Christian feminist theologian has shown that a perception of the goddess as the female in deity is important to Christian women.
Finally, I am convinced that the possibilities of agreement between us all are greater than the differences, even though there may be adversarial traditions that need to be recognised and overcome. The particularity of background and tradition can yield some space to the universality of women's autonomous spiritual and physical selfhood. The goddess movement I believe is a forceful way of bringing back to women their share of divinity, and of overcoming their imposed disabilities in both spiritual and secular life. It can direct and empower them to act bravely in society, and to be aware of more than their personal concerns. The movement is immature, brash and sometimes silly. But it has immense power and veracity, and to my way of knowing should be recognised as an authentic voice of deity.
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