GUEST BLOG: Problems with Goddess Temple of Orange County
[Note from Medusa: In 2006, author Barbara Ardinger wrote a two-part series for this blog about the Goddess Temple of Orange County which you can find here and here.]
by Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D., guest blogger
Winter solstice, 2007
I no longer support the Goddess Temple of Orange County.
For the past six months, and especially since September, “Rev. Ava” has surrounded herself with mainstream metaphysicals, whom I call the Yes-Avas. The temple is now a very pretty New Age church. To qualify for 501(c)(3) status, Rev. Ava was required to have a board of directors; her first board was the two women who were with her from the beginning. They held community meetings every two months and anyone who cared to attend was welcome. As of June, 2007, these two women—both Dianics—were made so uncomfortable that they both left the church.
I was present at the member meeting in June where Rev. Ava wrote “president,” “vice president,” “secretary,” and “treasurer” on scraps of paper and handed them at random to the three new board members present. One is a worshipper of fairies, another who was ordained by a “psychic to the stars” some years ago, the third changed her name because her spirit guides told her to, and the fourth is an astrologer. (The latter was not present at that meeting. She got the left-over title.) Rev. Ava then announced that the board had hired her as director for $1 a year and that she would continue to direct the affairs of the church.
In August a young woman became the center of dispute in the church. This young woman—whose partner (a woman) actually told me she was a goddess—has had a wretched life full of abuse and (no doubt to protect herself) presents as a male and was not allowed in Church services on Sundays because men are not allowed. On August 19, when the topic of the day was “sacred rage,” she wanted to be let in. I was present. I witnessed what happened. Sunday services normally last 90 minutes. At 11:00 Rev. Ava began haranguing the audience about this young woman. I was watching the clock. At twenty minutes into the harangue, I called out, “Let her in.” Other women echoed my call. Rev. Ava spent another ten minutes on the subject. Then the young woman was let in. She bowed before the altar and took a seat in the audience. Now let’s be clear: as a woman, she could have just walked in and sat down at any time. She chose not to. And from that day, she has never sat in the congregation.
A mid-September member meeting focused on this same young woman. Until that time, everyone had been instructed (a) that she had been born intersexed (probably not true) and (b) to call her “him.” But it’s a woman-centered church. So with Rev. Alva’s help, the young woman in question prepared a statement that was read to the members of the congregation present at that meeting. Her statement specified that she wanted to be “female in the temple” and “female among other things” outside the church. Members were then asked to vote on the gender of this young woman. As if declaring gender by vote were possible! The Dianics abstained from voting and walked out.
The church has always professed respect for all faiths. On Thanksgiving Sunday, they read a Native American prayer. Immediately after the service, their only Native American woman (a Cherokee) was banned from the church because—like us Dianics—she was a “troublemaker.” A troublemaker is someone who holds and expresses opinions of her own. For at least two years, this woman had faithfully served the church in many capacities. But she is also fairly outspoken. The church now has a “concordance counselor.” If they need someone to mediate quarrels, what does that tell us about interpersonal relations in the church? It was this concordance counselor who accused and interrogated the Cherokee woman. More than that—they wrote her a letter ostracizing her and banning her from the church for a full year (she can’t come in the doors) and said they’re moving a “prayer card” from altar to altar during the year to facilitate her “healing.” Now in a business, when there is a disciplinary action, it is held confidential between the employee and the supervisor. In this case, Rev. Ava read the letter to the church’s service circles (which now meet in her living room). Gossip being what it is, the letter was almost immediately known to everyone else in the church.
Among other things, the letter says that Rev. Ava was a “grieving witness” to the interrogation. This is nonsense. Since the beginning, Rev. Ava has been the founder, director, and proprietor of the Goddess Temple. Nothing happens without her knowledge and direction.
A week later, the Cherokee woman came to a public solstice fair where I was selling books. She had copies of her letter with her. She handed these copies to several of her friends, who were gathered around her just in front of my sales table. The Goddess Temple had a table clear across the room. A young woman working the church’s table saw us and came charging across the room to confront the Cherokee woman: “This is a small community,” she said, “and you’re not allowed to talk about the letter.” She said more, too, none of it friendly.
Among other things, it’s a First Amendment issue. The Goddess Temple did not copyright that letter. It is the property of the woman to whom they sent it, and she can do whatever she wants to do with it, including disseminating it to everyone in the pagan community (which she has not done). I sent an email to Rev. Ava containing the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and asked her to please restrain her Temple world girls from trying to suppress the exercise of free speech in public places. They can do whatever they want to in their church, but they cannot violate the First Amendment in public places. Rev. Ava has not replied to me.
With a few exceptions, the members of this church are white, thin, upper-middle-class housewives. People who do not fit that pattern are generally not comfortable for very long at the church. The church is patriarchal in every way but gender. The Nice Metaphysical Ladies who run and attend the church are not pagan, nor do they know much about the Goddess, nor do they have a clue about the energetic of casting a circle or holding energy in a circle. They are New Agers who like the idea of “divine feminine” because they crave power over others. They can—thanks to another provision of the First Amendment—conduct their church any way they want to, but they do it now without the support of most of the pagan community in Southern California and without the support of most local Goddess worshippers and witches…though some covens rent the space for their sabbat rituals and invoke gods in the so-called Goddess temple.
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D (http://www.barbaraardinger.com), is the author of Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives (RedWheel/Weiser, 2006), a unique daybook of daily meditations, stories, and activities. Her earlier books are Finding New Goddesses, Quicksilver Moon, Goddess Meditations, and Practicing the Presence of the Goddess. Her day job is freelance editing for people who don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. Barbara lives in southern California.
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