Looking Back, Looking Forward
My first post of the calendar new year is dedicated to the Goddess Anna Perenna, who is sometimes seen as having two faces: Postverta, looking to the past, and Prosrsa, looking to the future.
Postverta: A Look Back
In the spirit of Postverta, a look back at the development of Goddess spirituality and spiritual feminisms can help us better understand where we are today. Feminist spirituality grew out of the consciousness-raising activities of the 1960s and 1970s, and evaluated the status of women in religion in ways similar to the critiquing of women’s social and political situation. Some women reacted to the information about the oppressive nature of mainstream religions by attempting to reform those religions. Others left mainstream religions and sought to establish (or re-establish) religious/spiritual paths that included Goddess figures or concepts, including seeing nature as good rather than as a negative force to be controlled. These modern Goddess pioneers understood that respecting nature, valuing women, and revering goddesses were intertwined, and they felt that the downgrading and erasing of goddesses was at the root of women’s social and political oppression.
The contemporary Goddess movement began with explorations by individual women or small informal groups sharing information and intuitions about ancient religions. Small groups became larger, a bit more structured, but usually remained all-women. As the movement grew, many women either opened their groups to men or joined existing mixed-gender Pagan groups. The migration of Goddess-honoring feminists into the Pagan community played an important role in the growth of that community in the last two decades of the 20th century. Women were to drawn to Paganism because the groups honored goddesses along with gods and also because nature is held sacred in many forms of Paganism. Women assumed that if a group honored the divine as female, it would also treat human females equitably. This assumption may have been naive. Women report that in many Pagan and Wiccan groups both online and "in real life," the input and opinions of women are resented or downright ignored, and sometimes, reflecting the larger society, "feminist" has become a bad word. Why, how, has this happened? One important reason is that the basic underpinnings of the old power-over, male-dominance paradigm haven’t been thoroughly rooted out. Rather, the old paradigm has been transferred from mainstream religions to some (many?) Pagan groups, which give short shrift to the empowered goddesses in matrifocal cultures of more than 3,000 years ago, and have instead adopted pantheons and viewpoints from later eras, which, while they include goddesses, envision them from a patriarchal rather than egalitarian perspective. This trend of downplaying women’s contributions and the importance of female deities is bolstered today, particularly in the U.S., by the backsliding socio-religio-political framework of the larger culture which, at least partly in defensive reaction to the slight progress made by women, is increasingly antagonistic to feminism and to equity for women.
This backlash occurs in spite of (because of?) another response to the writings, teachings and actions of spiritual feminists during the last two decades of the 20th Century: Many Jewish and Christian denominations became more open to women’s full participation in religion, including ordination, and grew sensitive to how exclusively-male god language serves to exclude women. Some of these groups responded by degenderizing language used to describe and address the divine. Some denominations added female "god language" or imagery to their texts and became more open to visioning the divine as female, or as they sometimes prefer to call it "feminine." (There’s a difference, but that’s a topic for another blog post.) A more recent development is Christian and Jewish groups who allow embodiment of the Divine as Female. People in these groups sometimes identify as Goddess Christians or Goddess Jews . (There are also a significant number of people people identifying themselves as "Jewitches," but imo the focus of many of these individuals and groups seems to be polytheist and magickal, but not particularly feminist.)
Let’s say you left a (non-fundamentalist) mainstream religion for Paganism as a result of your feminist views 20 or 30 years ago. An interesting experiment might be to revisit whatever group you left and see if there’s a difference in the language and the participation of women. Then compare that to how women are treated in your Pagan group. Where would you say women are treated more equitably today? Is there as great a difference in gendered "god language" between the Pagan group and the mainstream denomination as when you left it? What about male and female representations of the divine?
Prosrsa: A Glimpse of the Future
As we look towards the future with the vision of Prosrsa, the forward-looking face of Anna Perenna, I’m going to continue asking questions, borrowing from my column of a few years ago, "Goddess Spirituality at the Crossroads," in The Beltane Papers. These questions are about groups we may be involved in now:
- Do women participate equally in discussions in our mixed gender groups (including covens), or do they defer to, or are they often interrupted by men?
- Are leadership roles, other than high priest/ess, filled as often by women as by men in mixed gender groups?
- Are deities referred to as "the gods" when we actually mean both goddesses and gods?
- Are the group's teaching materials free of sexist assumptions (for example, characteristics assigned to gods and goddesses)?
- Do the books and techniques used for metaphysics (such as tarot, astrology, kabbalah, meditation, magick) depend on outdated patriarchal frameworks?
In addition to assessing whether groups are meeting our goals and needs, imo there is another important question to ask ourselves at this New Year: Do we Goddessians want to stay on the outskirts of spiritual paths or do we want to evolve into a fully-accepted religion? Many of us dislike "organized religion," and this feeling may be increased at present because we see in stark specifics, the harm that foisting religion onto political decisions and actions can do. Yet the outcome of continuing to remain on the margins – of both mainstream religions and Paganism – could mean that groups for which Goddess(es) are primary, groups that emphasize equality for women, will eventually disappear and fade into the persisting patriarchal culture. A year ago or two ago I thought this was likely to happen. But more recently I’ve been encouraged by the emergence of Goddessian and other spiritual feminist bloggers. And I’ve become more hopeful that there will be at least some sort of structure, (dare I say organization?) that will sustain us. To me, the most encouraging sign of this is the establishment of several Goddess temples, which I found out about in the last year while developing this blog. Medusa Coils has been fortunate to have guest blogs by people involved with a number of these temples – they’re listed over there on the right under "Archived Favorites," and some of the activities of these temples are listed in our "Events Coil" every month. I hope we’ll have more posts on physical spaces devoted to Goddess celebration in the future. At present I’m aware of contemporary Goddess temples in the western and midwestern USA, in England, the Netherlands, and in Australia. And I say wow!!! What these groups are doing is really impressive!!!! I’m optimistic that existing temples will continue to flourish, and that more Goddess temples will join them.
At the turn of the millennium, Abby Willowroot encouraged people to create Goddess statues and art in what she called "Goddess 2000 Project", whose aim was "A Goddess on Every Block!" Now that we are well into this millennium, I’d like to state another goal – a Goddess temple in every town!
I believe Goddess temples will bring us increased visibility and stability, lessen the perception of us as an unimportant or fringe group (or groups), and enable people to see contemporary Goddess religion(s) as a legitimate spiritual path. This, in turn, will help us reach other goals, such as having our research, scholarship, and writings published more easily, having our findings accepted in academic circles, and having Goddessian representatives included in "interfaith" programs and gatherings.
Recently, on her blog, M. Macha Nightmare (author with Starhawk et al. of The Pagan Book of Living and Dying) described an interfaith forum at Napa College in California. Macha was the speaker on "Contemporary Pagan, " in a program that also included speakers on Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other mainstream religions, and a speaker(Leilani of the Daughters of the Goddess) on what the program described as "Goddesses Based Wicca." In a footnote to her blogpost, Macha wrote, "This is how it was listed in the program, but the speaker actually said she was talking about goddess spirituality, which seemed more accurate to me." Napa College should be complimented on making a distinction, too infrequently made, between Paganism and Wicca and Goddess[es]-based Wicca, and I cheer Leilani’s and Macha’s further distinction between "Goddesses Based Wicca" and "Goddess spirituality." I consider the latter a wider category, a bigger tent. A tent that might even include Goddess Christians and Goddess Jews.
So at this dawning of a new calendar year, let us pour a libation to Anna Perenna, as well as to She who has many faces, many embodiments, many names. And let us toast to a year of continuing Goddessian progress.
TAGS:life news spiritual feminism feminisms Goddess women and religion New Year 2007 Goddessian Pagan feminist spirituality interfaith Goddess temples