Saturday, April 28, 2007

Mishkan Shekhinah, New Temple

This information comes to us from Deborah Grenn, founder of the Lilith Institute. Deborah writes:
We are pleased and proud to announce the formation of Mishkan Shekhinah, a Temple honoring and celebrating the Sacred Feminine in all.

Shekhinah, “She who dwells within,” is derived from the word MiShKaN, the Sanctuary in the wilderness and a dwelling place for the spirit of the Sacred Feminine on earth. I envision this mishkan as a sanctuary which brings people in from the wilderness, one which comes alive whenever and wherever people gather to seek Her. Continuing and expanding The Lilith Institute’s ritual activities of the past decade, the Mishkan is a concept and a community rather than one specific place. We will create this Temple whenever we gather in sacred space, be it in the foothills, at the ocean, in a grove of redwoods or in someone's home.

We will be joined for ceremonies by chantmistress/ritualist Cyrise Beatty, and on some occasions by Jamie Isman of Mishkan Elat, Evelie Delfino Sáles Posch of Mahal and other creatrixes of sacred music. Ritualist/peacemaker DeAnna L’Am will join us for our first Summer Solstice/Havdalah service on Saturday, June 16 at the Cultural Integration Fellowship in San Francisco. We also plan to do rituals and ceremonies in the East Bay, on the Peninsula and in Napa, as spaces become available.

With Mishkan Shekhinah, we create a space in which today’s priestesses, kohanot, can revive and preserve the ancient traditions, drawing on traditional sacred texts as well as working with new translations of ancient Aramaic and Sumerian, pre-Judaic texts by Jews and non-Jews alike. We will draw to a large extent on contemporary writings and chants grounded in Jewish/feminist spirituality, while weaving in African and other Earth-based spiritual traditions from many cultures.

We hope to bring together those looking to discover or renew their spiritual connection; those looking for an alternative liturgy and approach through which they can stay connected to Judaism; and people from all traditions seeking to enrich their own spiritual practices.

Thanks to the founders of Pardes Rimonim (Garden of Pomegranates) in the ‘90s, and to the women (and men) in the San Francisco Bay Area who have long been putting their energies into creating spaces and ceremonies where the Sacred Feminine within Judaism is more openly named and honored as Goddess and Creatrix. We will be posting the activities of these priestesses, poets, ritualists, healers, midrashists and liturgists on our website as soon as possible.
For more information, see


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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

VA Approves Pentacle for Gravesites

After negotiations of 9 years by several Wiccan and Pagan groups, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has added the Pentacle, to its list of emblems of faith that can be placed on government gravestones and markers. For more info, see Witchvox story, and Circle Sanctuary story that also has links to press coverage. This is significant not only for the Pagan/Wiccan community, but also for the continuation of separation of Church and State and freedom of religion, which, it seems to us, has sometimes been under stress in the U.S. in the last few years.

Blessed be!


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Monday, April 23, 2007

Buzz Coil: April

Here’s what’s been buzzin’ on other blogs recently. If we missed an blog post you think is important. Please leave the info as a "comment."

Deaf Pagan Crossroads: Blogger Ocean offers "A Healing Ritual for Virginia Tech" in her April 18 post, and related poetry in two April 18 posts, "A Poem for These Times " and "More Poetry from the Soul" by guest blogger Yvonne Aburrow.

Hecate: In an April 18 post, "Poetry Will Save Your Soul, " Blogger Hecate comments on the phenomenon of Pagan bloggers quoting poet Mary Oliver in response to Va. Tech events; with some of Oliver’s poems, including "When Death Comes." "Happy B/day, Margot," is Hecate’s tribute to Margot Adler on her birthday, April 16.

Roots Down: Deborah Oak writes about the spirituality manifest in Mary Oliver’s poetry and a recent reading by Oliver that she attended in "One of Us".

Pagan Godspell: Sara Sutterfield Winn posts a pagan reaction to the Va. Tech horror in her April 17 post, "Praying Out Horror." And she prepares us for Beltane in her April 19 post, "Silence and the Green Fuse." In an April 2 post, "Review - Magdalen Rising," she reviews Elizabeth Cunningham’s novel, in which Mary Magdalene is portrayed as the Celtic Maeve (with link to an excerpt).

Street Prophets In this spiritual child of the widely read progressive blog, Dailykos, Alexandra Lynch discusses "skyclad," and looks forward to Beltane in her April 16 post, "Preparing for my date with the gods..."

Property of a Lady: In an April 17 post, "Feminism and Goddess Worship," Deborah Lipp writes about her personal relationship to these.

Peacock Dreams: In a March 29 post titled, "Rant," T. Thorn Coyle writes:
Receptivity does not equal passivity. This is a sexist concept that has damaged us all, regardless of gender, sex, or orientation. It is the sort of thinking that causes stereotypically "masculine" traits to be valued in the culture, while stereotypically "feminine" traits are devalued. It limits the availability of "human" traits that cross borders and spill over from one place in order to water another.
She goes on to discuss gender, sex, cups, women, men, tops, bottoms....

Raihn Drop’s: Blogger Lisa x tells how it feels to receive and respond to the call of the Goddess in her April 16 post, "The Call".

Mother of Willows: Peter Scholgol’s April 6 post, "Mother, my atmosphere," is about reciting "Kuan Yin Pu Sa" with a 27-bead rosary (also see his March 29 post, "Reciting Kuan Yin"). For spiritual humor, see his April 16 post, "The power of pink," about finding his Kuan Yin icon and then trying to select appropriately-colored candles. For instance, Peter writes:
You must have candles; this much gay I know. But even with a gift card from Yankee so old the amount was wearing off, I couldn't figure out what went with bronze.
Panthea: Blogger Grian tells us about "Pagan Prayer Beads"on April 16, and gives us prayers to use with them in the April 17 post, "Triple Goddess Malas." (See earlier related post on this blog.) And on April 18, she posts about "Healing, Dolls and Magick(k)," saying she’s "not a spellcrafter" yet she makes and uses "Goddess dolls."

Driving Audhumla: In her April 23 post, "Some of my travels with Sheela-na-gig," Victoria Slind-Flor tells about the fabric images she created of Sheela and why this Goddess, whose genitally-assertive image can be seen on some (mostly European/British) churches, appeals to her. Victoria’s April 13 post, "Dancing with the Goddess," reflects on art shows, bonding with friends, dancing, being a crone with a cane. Victoria writes:
How fortunate I am to be in the here and now, and enjoying the freedom to live and create and step beyond the bounds of what once might have been expected of a woman of my age and background.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Earth Day Invocation

Mother Earth, today we call you:
Great living planet,
Guide us
to sanctify the air, which is your breath,
to purify the water, which is your life's flow,
to edify the fire, which is your energy
to fructify the earth, which is your body.

(Copyright 1990 by Judith Laura. Appears in 10th Anniversary Edition [1999] of She Lives! The Return of Our Great Mother)


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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

REVIEW: Dever Book About Asherah

Did God Have a Wife? Archeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel by William G. Dever, (Eerdmans 2005) hardcover.

This book establishes with strong archeological evidence that the Goddess Asherah was among the deities worshiped by Israelites, Judeans, and other peoples of the Ancient Near East (ANE). It’s a shame that William G. Dever couldn’t accomplish this without being unfriendly to today’s Goddess folk, a good number of whom came to this conclusion a while back. More about that later. First let’s get my objection to the book title out of the way and look at the book’s very positive accomplishments.

I’ve got to tell you, when I saw the title, Did God Have A Wife? my first response was: "You mean ‘Did Goddess have a husband (and who performed the ceremony)?’" In his bibliography, Dever lists among his previously anthologized articles, "Folk Religion in Ancient Israel: Did Yahweh have a Consort?" My guess is that "Did Yahweh have a Consort?" may have also been the book’s original title, but that someone (Dever? the publisher?) wanted a wider readership than this title would likely attract and so dumbed it down. Still, I wish they had compromised and made the current subtitle, Archeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel, the title. To Dever’s credit, the book, though packed with scholarly material, is written in a way that is easy for most non-academics to understand and even contains a few jokes.

Dever has, as he himself says several times in the book, an interesting background for this work. His grew up in a Christian fundamentalist family in the southern and mid-western USA, his father a preacher and "tent evangelist." He attended a church college in East Tennessee, then a "liberal Protestant seminary," and served as a parish minister. Then it was on to Harvard to study Old Testament theology. After finding he had "no talent for that discipline," he got into archeology which eventually led to 40 years of fieldwork in Israel and Jordan. He became what he calls a "nominal Jew," is active in the Reform Jewish community but is non-observant and considers himself a secular humanist. (p. xi) He claims to be "politically-speaking" a feminist, but when it comes to scholarship, he says he doesn’t want to be identified "as either a ‘feminist’ or a ‘masculinist’." (p. xiii). He is professor emeritus of Near Eastern Archeology and Anthropology at the University of Arizona.

The time period Dever examines is 12th Century to early 6th Century BCE (which Dever calls BC – I’m beginning to favor the new time-reckoning term, BP [Before Present], but since the present is always changing this is only good for long estimated eras not specific years. I will use BCE/CE in this review, as is most common among both Jews and Pagans). The book has a number of helpful charts and lists, among them chronological correlations with history and cultures (p. xvi), the differences between a "State religion" and a "folk religion," (p. 5), differences between texts and artifacts (pp.53-54). There are numerous pictures of artifacts and buildings throughout the book.

Dever says that since 1982, he has recognized Asherah as the consort of Yahweh (p. 201), making him one of the first outside of the Goddess community to acknowledge that Asherah was a deity. (The earliest was probably Raphael Patai in his invaluable book, The Hebrew Goddess (1967), to which Dever pays homage [p. 207-8] ). Other scholars, especially biblical theologists, whom Dever repeatedly takes to task, clung – many still cling – to the idea that the terms "asherah" and "asherim’ in the Bible refer only to poles. Dever defines the religion of most ancient Israelites and Judeans as "folk religion." He says archeology supports it being polytheistic, including both female and male deities, and although women were very active in the religion, it was a religion of both women and men. (p. 251).

Once an advocate of biblical theology, Dever now lists 11 reasons why it is "useless in the attempt to reconstruct a reliable portrait of ancient Israelite religion." The first two reasons? "Clerically dominated" and "androcentric." (p. 38) Dever also parts ways with postmodernists, calling their view that biblical texts don’t refer to any reality, "piffle." (p. 9) About the Hebrew scriptures themselves, Dever says:
– "All biblical texts in their present written form were produced relatively late in Israel’s history," that is, no earlier than the 8th Century BCE.
– The writers of the Bible were highly selective in the material they allowed in, and were "mostly elites, literati" and male, making up less than 1 percent of the population.
– "...all the biblical literature...constitutes what is essentially ‘propaganda....the Bible is ‘revisionist history’ on a grand scale."
–The Bible doesn’t portray the Israelite religion as it really was, but rather as what the authors wanted it to be, and suppressed and condemned "folk religion"–that is the religion of at least 99% of the people.
(pp. 69-73, 251)

Asherah: The Archeological Evidence
Dever presents the evidence for polytheism in general and worship of the Goddess Asherah in particular until the mid 6th Century BCE (p.299). He concludes that
...triumphant monotheism tends to foster cultural imperialism. Monotheism defined exclusively by a male clergy in term of their male deity almost inevitably results in a hierarchical and patriarchal system. (p.315)
The book is packed with explanations of folk religion and State (or book) religion, descriptions of ANE culture and family life, "Old Testament" theology and various approaches to studying these.

From archeological and anthropological evidence, Dever concludes that the "high places," "standing stones" and "poles," against which biblical prophets railed are all connected to worship of Asherah and other deities, such as the gods El, Ba’al, and Yahweh, and the goddesses Astarte and Anat. He also takes a look at stone and terra cotta offering tables and basins, incense burners, family shrines, and temples (at Jerusalem and elsewhere), all of which support polytheistic practices.

Here are a few items of particular interest:
– a Hebrew inscription found in an 8th Century BCE bench tomb near Hebron that Dever excavated and reported on in 1969 ("which was ignored by scholars for a decade"). Roughly translated, the inscription reads: "Blessed is Uriyahu by Yahweh. From his enemies he has been saved by his a/Asherah."(p. 132) Dever and other archeologists subsequently found Asherah and Yahweh paired on a number of other inscriptions (pp. 162-163).
– Male figurines were rare in ancient Israel in 10th-6th centuries BCE. (p.147)
– A mold for making female figurines was found in a 10th century BCE in a "Cultic Structure" which appears connected to "Asherah, the Lion Lady" (p 151).
– At least three types of figures representing Asherah:
(1) 10th-9th century BCE: Nude figures with long hair, usually similar to "the bouffant wig worn by the Egyptian goddess Hathor, whom the texts clearly equate with the Levantine Asherah as ‘Qudshu,the Holy One’." She is sometimes shown on or with a lion. (p. 176-178)
(2) 10th-9th century BCE: Figures, either nude or wearing skirts, holding either a drum or a cake.
(3) Late 8th-7th century BCE: Judean "pillar-based" figures with prominent breasts, whose lower body resembles a tree trunk. Hundreds to thousands of these have been found.(pp. 179-180) [To get to link, click on "cancel" in response to query about foreign language. The Israel Museum and others often label an artifact of Asherah, Astarte. ]
– In the mid 1980s CE, Ruth Hestrin, a curator at the Israel museum, Jerusalem, pointed out, after examining a ceremonial vase excavated in Lachish, that in Israelite iconography both the tree and the downward-pointing triangle are not just symbols of, but are literally interchangable with, the Goddess Asherah. Many Israelite artifacts show either a tree or a downward-pointing triangle with two lions (or other animals) on either side. These were understood by the Israelites as being the Goddess Asherah ("the Lion Lady") accompanied by her animals. (Egyptian iconography shows a human being nursed by a tree with a human breast; another drawing shows a human-bodied goddess and tree as one.) (pp. 225-229).

When Dever ventures into areas that he’s not as familiar with as archeology, he’s prone to misstatements. For example, in his discussion of laws for kosher foods promulgated in Leviticus, he can’t understand what makes one animal "unclean," while another is "acceptable." He asks:
Why do the "holiness laws" in Leviticus specify that animals that "chew the cud or part the hoof" (11:4) are unclean?....Why are pigs non-kosher?...(p.267)
Well, I got out my handy-dandy KJV, and extended my reading to Lev.11:3-7, which reads:
Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud among beasts, that shall ye eat. Nevertheless, these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but not the hoof; he is unclean unto you....And the hare, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you. And the swine, though he divide the hoof, and be clovenfooted, yet he cheweth not the cud; he is unclean unto you.
So Leviticus doesn’t say that animals that "chew the cud or part the hoof" are unclean. It says "that shall you eat" – they’re clean, baby, eat up. The animals that are unclean are those that don’t both have cloven hoofs and chew cuds. For example, the camel chews a cud but doesn’t have a divided hoof. Ain’t kosher. And the delicious little piggy has a cloven hoof but doesn’t chew a cud, so the Bible says, feh!!!!

In his brief broaching of Kabbalah (p. 302), which is part of Dever’s discussion of the Shekhinah as a post-biblical Jewish female or feminine divine personification, Dever says that kabbalistic literature and thinking is "too divergent...and too fluid to permit a summary here." I agree. Nevertheless, Dever goes on to write a few sentences in which he talks about "the feminine figure" and "the male figure" in Kabbalah. This is misleading as there are several female/feminine and male/masculine "figures" in Kabbalah even as far back as the book called the Zohar (1280-1286 CE), which is Dever’s reference point. Dever writes that the "male figure" is "obviously God,...called the Father; she [the "feminine figure"] is "Mother, Supernal Mother, Matronit, the Shekinah (even Bride in some texts)." I’m willing to bet that it’s not obvious to most kabbalists that any single "figure" is "God." In kabbalah-speak, what Dever calls "figures" are usually called emanations or sefirot (Heb.) The most common understanding is that the main kabbalistic symbol or glyph, the Tree of Life, in its entirety represents the Divine. The "Father" sometimes called the "Supernal Father" is the emanation called Hokmah, the 2nd emanation from the top of the Tree of Life (there are 10, sometimes 11 if you count one invisible emanation. They are probably best understood here as aspects of the Divine.) The way Dever describes the "feminine figure" is also misleading because he makes it sound as though "Mother, Supernal Mother, Matronit, and the Shekinah" are all the same in Kabbalah. They’re not. Shekinah is considered synonymous with Malkut, the bottom emanation on the Tree, also sometimes called Matronit. But "Mother" and "Supernal Mother" are used to refer to Binah, the third emanation from the top. (See, for example, Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 219) Dever also says,"the pair are lovers." But, you see, we have two pairs of lovers. In the Zohar, during creation, the Supernal Father (Hokmah) impregnates the Supernal Mother, Binah, who gives birth to the emanation, Tiferet. One of Tiferet’s titles is "The Holy King." It is Tiferet/Holy King who couples with Malkut/Shekinah as the Sabbath Queen or Bride. (See, for example, Daniel C. Matt, The Essential Kabbalah. And if you’re interested in a Goddess take on Kabbalah, check
this out.) In other words, Kabbalah portrays a type of hieros gamos (sacred marriage), yet Dever insists that there is no cultural or historical evidence for hieros gamos in the ANE (p.216). (Not even in the Song of Songs?) I also find it very odd that Dever doesn’t even mention The Tree glyph in his Kabbalah sentences, given that he has previously pointed out that archeologically Asherah and the tree "are interchangable"( p. 228).

Shirking the ‘Goddess Movement’
With these inaccuracies, and with the vigor with which he attacks other types of scholars that he perceives not being on the same wave length as he is, perhaps his attitude towards and inaccuracies about Goddess scholarship are less surprising. Although he mentions some feminist authors, to him they are a mixed bag, some he at least leaves uncriticized while others, such as Maria Gimbutas, he writes of with disdain. And still others he omits. I was sorry to see he neglected to mention either in the text or in his extensive bibliography important authors whose works are strongly related to his topic including: Savina J. Teubal, author of Sarah the Priestess: the first matriarch of Genesis (1984); Asphodel P. Long, who sources him in her 1993 book, In A Chariot Drawn by Lions; and Jenny Kien, who sources him in her 2000 book, Reinstating the Divine Woman in Judaism. In addition to these slights, he seems either uninformed or sloppy about some of the feminist authors and works he mentions. For example, he misspells Naomi Goldenberg’s name (p. 309 and index), rendering her last name "Goldberg" and then, in a list of "Jewish works" that follows, omits her name before her book’s title, making it seem like Goldenberg’s book, Changing of the Gods (1979) was written by Judith Plaskow. In addition, identifying Changing of the Gods as a "Jewish" work is inaccurate; although it includes some Jewish material, Goldenberg is not writing within the Jewish tradition and the book also discusses Christian and feminist Witchcraft material. (Goldenberg is now professor of religious studies at the University of Ottawa). Dever identifies Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father (1973) as a "later work" when actually it was one of her earlier works.

In what has become de rigueur for all too many of those in the academy, Dever accuses the "Goddess movement" of assertions and approaches that while they may possibly represent views of a very few people, are certainly not a majority view and cannot be said to be representative of the "movement" as a whole. Typically, this tactic is an attempt to discredit the entire "movement" or community of Goddess scholars by attributing to them outlooks or statements, which they didn’t/don’t make and then refuting them. For example, Dever writes:
Some doctrinaire feminists have gone to extremes, of course, arguing without any evidence that originally there was only one Great Mother who...was dethroned by upstart male deities in later historical times and was thereafter suppressed. This was most forcibly argued by the European archeologist Marija Gimbutas in books like Language of the Goddess (1989). Such pseudo-scholarship has been embraced by various New Age Goddess cults and "Neopagan" religions....Some of these groups want to adopt me when I give public lectures, but the portrait I am painting here should give them no comfort.
He goes on to refer to the "foolishness perpetuated by ‘Goddess movement’" that there was a single ancient ..."monolithic Goddess." (p.306-307)

I’m surprised Dever is joining in on these baseless accusations to discredit Goddess scholarship despite refutations made again, again, again, and again. And what does Gimbutas actually say? In The Language of the Goddess, p. 316, Gimbutas specifically rejects the general term "Mother Goddess" calling it a "misconception." She says there was "a Mother Earth and a Mother of the Dead but the rest of the female images cannot be generalized under the term ‘Mother Goddess’." She goes on to reject Eric Neumann’s Jungian concept of the "Great Mother" because "it does not allow appreciation of her total character." It’s also noteworthy that when Gimbutas uses the term "Great Goddess" she is using it as a term in which to gather a great variety of "goddess images," and that she also speaks of goddesses, plural. And she is referring to the geographic area of her excavations, mostly southeast Europe (she excavated mostly in Bosnia, Macedonia, Greece, Italy, and probably most famously, Catalhoyuk, Anatolia [Turkey]).

Though the term is used in the singular, and although other Goddess scholars may sometimes use the term "the Goddess," or "Great Goddess" the vast majority of those who use these terms are not asserting "a single ancient Goddess," or any sort of monotheism. Rather, the term "the Goddess" or the "Great Goddess" is used as an umbrella term which includes a multitude of goddesses. Based on anthropological and archeological research to date, it does seem reasonable to assume that at some time in each individual culture’s history one or more female deities were worshipped and that these deities sometimes had similar traits. And it’s possible that within these particular cultures, there may have been a Goddess whom those within that culture perceived as being universal, as in the way Dever himself uses the term, "Great Goddess":
In earlier Canaan, the Great Goddess may be a cosmic deity who could be known by several names: Asherah; ‘Anat; Astarte; or Ba’alat or Elath....(p.166)
I don’t take Dever’s use of the term, Great Goddess, to mean that Dever believes that all cultures in the world worshipped only a single goddess at some time in the past. Why should he accuse us, as a group, of asserting that? (Whether some of us today understand deity as a single Goddess is another issue, and certainly understandable considering the monotheistic religions most of us come out of.)

Why does Dever jump on the Goddess feminist-bashing bandwagon? Some other scholars who use this tactic may simply be misogynist, but I don’t think this is true in Dever’s case. I think he is attempting to keep (or gain?) credibility in the academic community. I think his attempt at discrediting the "Goddess movement" and something else he calls "New Age Goddess cults" is to signal to his colleagues that he is not part of that "cult," that his work, though it asserts the same ideas, should be taken more seriously than that of Goddess feminists. I don’t understand how such a learned man can conflate Goddess feminism and New Age thought. The very significant differences between the two have been clearly stated by a number of people including Monica Sjoo in Return of the Dark/Light Mother or New Age Armageddon (1999), Jacqui Woodward-Smith in "The Goddess vs. the New Age," (Goddess Pages, Issue 1, 2006), and my blog comments on Woodward-Smith’s article.

Regarding his concern that "Some of these groups want to adopt me," I didn’t know we were so intimidating or that our attentions were unwanted, but now that I know, in this review I restrained myself from heaping superlatives of praise upon Dever’s archeological findings and his assessment of biblical narrative lest I embarrass him by my approval. If you feel you are one of those Goddess folk Dever may be trying to avoid and you’re in a position to give presentations, to write on the subject, or to add texts to courses or bibliographies, you might want to consider taking similar precautions to protect his feelings.

As we close, I have a final paradox to share with you. Inexplicably in light of his own criticism, near the end of his book Dever himself invokes what sounds like a single ancient "Great Mother"; he writes:
With the full recognition of religion and society, the spirit of the Great Mother will at last be freed. (p.317).
Now what do you make of that?

[Following this post (posted immediately before it chronologically) is a letter to the editor of the Biblical Archeology Review from Caroline Tully about its review of this book.]


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Guest Blog by Caroline Tully

[The following is a letter Caroline Tully wrote to the Biblical Archeology Review, which published part of the letter. Caroline offered to share her entire letter with readers of this blog.]

Regarding Asherah
In his critical review of William Dever’s book "Did God Have a Wife?" (BAR 32:5. 2006), Shmuel Ahituv brings up some interesting points. However, I find myself questioning some of his conclusions as well as his analysis of what Dever is doing in his book. Firstly, Ahituv describes Dever as "grading" his colleagues for their studies in religion, archaeology, anthropology and feminist studies, but isn’t Dever simply setting the scene for his ideas by informing readers about the state of scholarship on the topic to date? Ahituv criticizes Dever’s "severing" of popular religion from theology and believes that Dever ought to be able to define ancient Israelites’ ideas about divinity. However, in archaeology, while it is easy to identify things like tools and to speculate about how they might have been used, it is much more difficult to identify a religious object and to say with absolute confidence what people who used it thought or believed because thought is invisible. Even if ancient Israelites had various concrete ideas about the nature of their God(s) [and Goddesses], without texts it is difficult to know for sure what it was they really thought. We can see the material remains and speculate from there, but we cannot see inside ancient people’s heads therefore Dever is right not to enter into theological speculation in this case.

Although there is a gap between the Ugaritic texts and the Bible, most scholars believe that the Ugaritic deity, Athirat, was equivalent to Asherah. Although ‘asherah in the Bible refers to a wooden pole or tree, this does not necessarily mean that this wooden object was separate to the deity Asherah. If it was a cult object, like a standing stone as Ahituv suggests, that does not mean that it did not represent a deity. On the contrary, according to Uzi Avner in an article in BAR 27:3, 2001, in ancient Israelite religion standing stones do represent deities, hence the ‘asherah may also represent a deity. Ahituv says that "…the Biblical ‘asherah was not a goddess at all, but a cult symbol, much like a standing stone." Fine, but I must ask, a cult symbol of what? What is its significance?

We know that the ‘asherah was wooden, pole- or trunk-like, it may even have been a tree. Both Avner and Ruth Hestrin (BAR Sep/Oct 1991) believe the goddess Asherah was represented by a tree, an example of which can be seen mounted on a lion’s back on the Kuntillet Ajrud pithos. The Biblical ‘asherah may have been aniconic or it may have had human, or partially human, form. The Biblical text mentions that women wove ‘batim’ - which Ahituv translates as houses or tents for the ‘asherah. He criticizes Dever’s modification of ‘batim’ to ‘badim’, meaning garments, cloth, textiles. However, are not tents - Ahituv’s suggestion - textiles also? If this object was woven, perhaps it was a decorative curtain or drape of some sort? Ahituv also complains that Asherah did not have a temple. I don’t think that we should necessarily expect her to have a temple at this time and place in history, although Ahituv himself cites 2 Kings 17:10-11 regarding ‘asherim placed at outdoor and hilltop cultic sites.

Ahituv also mentions that on the Kuntillet Ajrud and Khirbet el-Qom inscriptions that Asherah is never mentioned alone but always in company with YHVH. Why should she be mentioned alone in these cases when in Ugarit, Mesopotamia and South Arabia she is always associated with the chief male deity? If she was wife of Yahweh it would not be unusual for her to appear alongside him. Nor is it definite that the Kuntillet Ajrud drawing represents the Egyptian dwarf god, Bes. In this drawing, while Dever maintains that the seated lady represents Asherah, Avner (BAR 27:3) questions the two ‘Bes’ figures and suggests that they in fact represent Yahweh and Asherah, the one on the right having been incorrectly reconstructed as a ‘male’. Also, even if the drawings were partially executed over the inscription, that does not mean that conceptually they had nothing to do with the inscription.

Ahituv also doubts that the "pillar figurines" represent a goddess, let alone Asherah. He suggests that they were votive offerings designed to ensure lactation in nursing mothers. I believe however, that there is a strong possibility that these figurines do represent Asherah and may even be domestic versions of the cultic ‘asherim. The pillar figurines have been associated with the cultic ‘asherim and hence with the goddess Asherah because of their pillar or trunk-bodies which look like they might be intended to represent trees - and of course the Biblical ‘asherah/Asherah was wooden. Examples of Egyptian "nurturing trees" which had a trunk as a lower body, human arms and breasts and sometimes heads, may have been iconographic precedents of ‘asherim and/or pillar figurines. Pillar figurines were probably painted so as to appear to be wearing a skirt, however, even if the figurine’s lower body was covered in a skirt, it could still represent a skirt over a tree trunk - recall that the ‘asherim may also have worn a cloth garment of some sort.

Pillar figurines are practically always found deliberately broken at the neck, some think this is evidence of religious reform, however there is another interpretation. Ahituv cites Ziony Zevit as saying that the pillar figurines were "prayers in clay" however Zevit also describes them as "envelopes" which contained wishes or requests and had to be ritually broken so as to "post" the request to its destination. In mythology Athirat/Asherah was an intercessor with El, supplicants sought her aid when approaching him. The breakages - if we go with Zevit’s idea of the figurines being envelopes - do not really contradict the idea of pillar figurines also representing a goddess who intercedes with a more remote male god, because if to break is to send, then the figurines are still fulfilling a mediating/communicating role. Pillar figurines could represent Asherah as a messenger and/or mediator, a more approachable divine figure - a bit like Mary in Christian belief. As for them being "lactation charms", not all pillar figurines had huge breasts, see the example on the cover of BAR (32:5) in which Ahituv’s article appears.

This is a fascinating topic with implications affecting Jews, Christians and Neo-Pagans, and deserves further study. It is not enough to keep on saying that the cultic ‘asherim were "cultic objects". Yes we know that, but cultic objects of what? If scholars object to the interpretation of the asherim as representations of the goddess Asherah, then they need to say what else they could be. Simply saying "a wooden pole or tree" is not enough. If it wasn’t some sort of symbol of the wife of Yahweh, then what was it?

Caroline Tully
Melbourne, Australia

[See also, "Review Raises More Questions,"
letter from Boris Bernstein, Estonian Academy of Art]

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

News from the Temples

[Note from Medusa: Every few months, we hope to have reports from the varied and growing Goddess Temples around the world. The following reports were written by members/priestesses of some of these Temples. Temples' events are among those listed in the Events Coil, posted yesterday (directly below this post.) For previous articles on this blog about individual Temples, go to bottom of this post and click on the Label "Temples" ]

Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet
This Spring has been devoted to a number of temple beautification projects. We have created pathways from the Temple to our Labyrinth, Fairy Altar, and MayTree sites. We have also re-designed the ritual space outside the Temple. The entrance gate and outside fire pit are now aligned with the Temple Fire Pit, so when we enter the Gate we see this lovely sacred line, as we stand in the east and look out west through the door of the temple. This weekend, we will be constructing Sekhmet’s Pavilion which we will use for the Sekhmet Festival (August 10-12). At this festival, we process carrying the statue of Sekhmet out of the Temple at sunset and then hold an all-night ceremony for Her, returning Her to the Temple at sunrise. During the night, she will sit in Her Pavilion, which is adorned with beautiful red silks and flowers. She is surrounded by red pillows, with kyphi incense swirling around Her. You can see a picture of Her last year at

Our other annual work projects for the spring include painting, gathering Temple firewood, moving rocks, and a deep spring cleaning of our Guest House. We schedule these events in the Spring because the summer heat (regularly over 100 degrees), as much as we love it, precludes outdoor labor. Of course, our work days include eating and a drum circle in the evening. We always have a wonderful time when we get together here on this sacred land [in Nevada].
-Anne Key, Ph.D. &

The Goddess Temple of Orange County
SHE HAS RISEN! The Goddess is alive and thriving at The Goddess Temple of Orange County! Since last year, we have increased steadily in membership and credibility. We are so very blessed with dedicated priestesses who are, more and more, taking on important roles in two service circles: Ritual & Liturgy and Membership & Outreach. We feel so humbled to be honored by the presence of such great Goddess Women (to name only a few) as Barbara Ardinger, Max Dashu, Vajra Ma, Mama Donna Henes, Ruth Barrett, Kathy Jones and Karen Tate.

We ARE a church! Did you hear that, ladies? BE ASSURED THERE IS A CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES, WHERE, EVERY SUNDAY, WE WORSHIP HER! We praise HER name! We pray to HER divine presence in our lives! We recount HER stories of miracles, power and wonder! Each Sunday and with each Holy Day Ritual, it seems the energy expands greatly inside our hearts and inside Her Great Womb, which is reflected in our beautiful Temple to HER. We feel the golden energy grow and we feel healed, powerful, loving and prosperous. We send out our "world healing prayers" every Sunday (sometimes we howl them, drum them or dance them) and we hope you feel the energy too. Please visit us soon for a sacred pilgrimage to The Goddess Temple of Orange County [California] or check out what She is creating here:

-Sheryll Alexander, Her Priestess

The Australian Goddess Temple at Serenity
It is high summer here in Australia, and the sound of the cicadas is sweet in the background, as we chant morning practice in the Temple. Two new banners painted and donated by Priestess Stephanie seem to embrace the life-size sculpture of the Great Mother as the Venus of Willendorf on the main altar, as they adorn the wall behind Her. Our early summer retreat was wonderful, with sisters coming from as far as Sydney and Melbourne to "SING OUR CHAKRAS", and soon we gather again for our Oestra Retreat in early April, to share "THE GODDESS WAY".

Our Temple continues to offer sanctuary for sisters who travel long distances to come and celebrate the Divine Mother as they understand her. Those who travel are free to sleep in the Temple after evening practice. This is a sublime experience, to lie down in a sleeping bag in the remaining light from candles lit during our sacred work, and to gently allow the sweetness of the Dark Mother to enfold us. We give thanks and gratitude for our Temple.

To quote my song, "Blessed Be Our Sacred Temple":
"For so long, we yearned for sanctuary
A place to come, and share our hearts desire
In an alien world
We kept Her flame a-burning
Now, our journey's brought us home."
May you all be blessed be, and may we all meet on the Path.

In sacred sisterhood,
-Anique Radiant Heart, Priestess of the Sacred Songs
Australian Goddess Temple at Serenity

Temple of Isis
The Temple of Isis at Isis Oasis in Geyserville, CA will present ISIS FEST, a Jubilee for the Egyptian New Year on July 18-22. It is a participatory costumed theme event with ceremonies & rituals, music & dance classes and performances, Egyptology lectures, arts & crafts booths, "Hatchepsut" a play by Rev. Loreon, and "Reborn" the Isis-Osiris legend presented by the Floating Lotus Dance Theater. More info available at, or email the coordinator Rev. Phoenix, (beautiful promotional postcards available upon request) Also upcoming: June 15-17: Body-Mind Immersion Workshop with Michael Bloomfield & Lena Robinson, and the annual Convocation of the Temple of Isis & Fellowship of Isis - Oct 5-8, see

-Temple of Isis



Monday, April 02, 2007

Events Coil: April 6 - June 22

Spring is a busy time for workshops and conferences. We are bolding the links to events that last more than one day because you often need to make plans well ahead of time for those. As far as we know, all events we list are open functions; but some may be limited to women or to adults. Please check the websites for group policies. All times are local. All locations are in the USA unless otherwise indicated. When listing events for the same date, we have tried to list those occurring first, taking into account time zone differences. If there is a difference between our listings and the listings on the web page linked to, assume their web page is correct, as it may have changed since we listed from it.

The next Events Coil is planned for early to mid May and will include events listed here that haven't yet happened, plus new events for about the next 6 weeks. If you have an event you want listed in future events coils, please leave it in a comment. See the end of this Coil for what info we need for listings.

April 6-8, Wise Women's Festival, music & magick, Hampton FL

April 7, 9 a.m.-Noon, "Personal Ritual Making" with Ruth Barrett; 2 p.m. "Crossing the Waters to Avalon" with Kathy Jones, priestess of the Glastonbury Goddess Temple, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

April 8, 11 a.m.
Services with Kathy Jones, Priestess of Avalon from the Glastonbury Goddess Temple, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

April 10, father 10:30 a.m., Celebrate Chinese Sea Goddess Tien Hu, includes trip to Her Temple, Daughters of the Goddess (Dianic) San Francisco, CA

April 14, 7 p.m.
New Moon Drumming, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

April 17, gather 7 p.m., ritual 7:30 p.m. New Moon Women's Mysteries, Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, Indian Springs NV

April 19, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., "Crossing Stony Ground," with Starhawk. Wild Ginger Ontario Reclaiming, Toronto CANADA

April 20, 7:30 p.m.Vandana Shiva and Starhawk in conversation. Toronto Women's Bookstore, Toronto CANADA

April 20-22, Spirit Matters: Sharing Our Stories with David Abram, Zenobia Barlow, Marilyn Daniels, Jorge N. Ferrer, Laara Fitznor, Diane Longboat, Jeannette McCoullough, Vandana Shiva, Starhawk, Moema Libera Viezzer & others, Transformative Learning Centre, Toronto, CANADA

April 21-22
Earth Day Celebration, Circle Sanctuary, Mt. Horeb, WI

April 21,
Suppressed histories: Asia Minor with Max Dashu, Emeryville CA

April 22, 11 a.m. Services: Vows to the Goddess for Kay Walburger; 2 p.m. Pombagira 101 (AfroBrazilian Orisha) with Ann Argabrite, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

April 22, 6-9 p.m.
Ceremonial Circle for Earth Day, Women's Well, West Concord MA

April 27-29, Beltaine Celebration, Temple of Isis, Geyersville CA

April 28, gather 12:30 p.m., ritual 1 p.m. Beltane (Reclaiming), Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

April 28, doors open 6:30 p.m. ritual 7 p.m.
Holy Day Ritual: Beltane with guest priestess Vajra Ma, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

April 29, 8 p.m., Beltane Sabbat, Toronto Temple (Wiccan Church of Canada) Toronto, CANADA

April 30, 7:30 p.m. Beltane Festival Glastonbury Goddess Temple, Glastonbury, ENGLAND

May 2, 7 p.m. Full Moon Drumming, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

May 2, gather 7 p.m., ritual 7:30 p.m., Full Moon Ritual, Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, Indian Springs NV

May 4, 7 p.m."The History and Impact of Patriarchy," with Dr. Christina Biaggi, Miriam Robbins Dexter, & Starr Goode, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine, CA

May 4-6, Beltane, Circle Sanctuary, Mt. Horeb, WI

May 5, gather 7 p.m., ritual 3: 30 p.m.
Beltane, Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, Indian Springs NV

May 6, 1400 uur,
Beltane, Avalon-Mystic, Hillgom NEDERLAND

May 6, 11 a.m. "West African Fertility Dance," with Jallilla Salaam, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

May 11-13, Mothers & Daughters Weekend with Z Budapest, Temple of Isis, Geyersville CA

May 12, "Earth Spirit, Earth Justice" with Starhawk, PIILECL, Portland State University, Portland OR

May 13, 11 a.m.,
"Role of Women in Gold Atlantis," with Diana Cooper, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

May 13, gather 7 p.m., ritual 7:30 p.m.,
Mother's Day, Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, Indian Springs NV

May 15, 7 p.m.,
New Moon Drumming, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

May 16, 7 p.m.,
New Moon Women's Mysteries: Tarot II, Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, Indian Springs NV

May 18-20: Gathering of Priestesses and Goddess Women, RCG-I, Wisconsin Dells WI

May 18-20,
SheShamans Conference with Patricia Winters, marilyn Walker, Max Dashu, Linda Rose Corazon, Cindy Palmer, & others, IsisOasis, Geyersville, CA

May 19, 6:30 p.m.
"Tantra Puja," with Rev. Ayanna Mojica & Randy Dunphiney, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

May 26-27,
Gaia Festival West Coast with Karen Tate, Miranda Rondeau, Joan Norton, & others; screening of "Signs Out of Time" about Marija Gimbutas, Pacific Palisades CA

May 26, 7 p.m
."Shapeshifters" A Two-Spirit Evening," with Storyteller Gillian Cameron & friends, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

May 29, 7 p.m.,
Full Moon Drumming, Goddess Temple of Orange County, Irvine CA

June 1-3,
"Voice of A Woman," Gaia's Womb, with Margot Adler and Max Dashu, Racine WI

June 1, gather 7 pm, ritual, 7:30 p.m.,
New Moon ritual, Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, Indian Springs NV

June 8-12,
Earth Spirit Rising Conference with Connie Barlow, Michael Dowd, Kirkpatrick Sale, Jim Schenk, Starhawk, & others, Louisville KY

June 15, 7 pm,
New Moon Women's Mysteries, "Goddess Priestess of Ancient Mexico, Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, Indian Springs NV

June 21, gather 7 p.m, ritual 7:30 p.m.,
Summer Solstice, Temple of Goddess Spirituality Dedicated to Sekhmet, Indian Springs NV

June 17-20: Pagan Spirit Gathering 2007, Southeastern Ohio

June 20, 7 p.m.
Summer Solstice Celebration, Women's Well, West Concord MA

June 21, 7:30 p.m.,
Summer Solstice Festival, Glastonbury Goddess Temple, Glastonbury, ENGLAND

June 21, gather 7 p.m., ritual 8 p.m.,
Summer Solstice (Reclaiming) Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA

June 22-24:
Feminist Hullabaloo with Paula Gunn Allen, Mary Daly, Sally Gearhart, Sonia Johnson and others,
Santa Fe NM


(White Gum Valley): Mondays, 6 p.m.,
Chalice Ceremony, Daughters of Ishtar.

Sudbury: 1st Friday (Sept.-June) 7:30 p.m., Sudbury Women's Circle.
Hamilton: Saturdays, 4-6 p.m. Open Classes ; gather 6:30-7 p.m. Open Circles , Hamilton Temple, Wiccan Church of Canada.

Baltimore MD: Sundays 10 a.m., Rites of Cafeina, Cedar Light Grove (ADF)
Geyersville CA: Sunday Services 2-4 p.m. Temple of Isis
Houston TX: Sundays, 10 a.m. Magdalene Community, Rothko Chapel; Mondays at Noon, Christian feminist theology study group ; 1st &3rd Fridays at Noon, Group studying Gospel of Mary Brigid's Place, Christ Church Cathedral.
Irvine CA: Sunday Services: 1st Service at 9:30 a.m. inward, meditative; 2nd service at 11 a.m., dancing, drumming, singing; see dates for guest speakers. Goddess Temple of Orange County,
Mt. Horeb WI: Goddess Circle, Thursdays 7-8:30 p.m., Circle Sanctuary.
Portland OR: Rituals at new and full moons, quarters and cross-quarters. Full Circle Temple , Tuesdays-Sundays 10 a.m.-10 p.m. "Open to all self-identified women and girls."
Rockville MD: night before new moon, Dark Moon Book Group, Spiral Heart (Reclaiming).
San Francisco CA: Wednesdays, Christian Goddess Rosary, Ebenezer Lutheran Church; 1st Fridays, evenings at various locations, Woman's Spirituality group.
San Francisco CA: New Moon and Full Moon observances, Maa Batakali Cultural Mission.
West Concord MA: 1st Monday, 7-9 p.m.
Women's Circles; other ongoing groups include Demeter & Persephone's Circle for mothers and daughters; Council of Mother Bears; Menopause As Spritual Journey; Menarche, for mothers and Daughter, at Women's Well.

We'll be happy to add your Goddess and spiritual feminist events (and those you know about that are open to the public) no matter where in the world they are. Leave a comment with your event, giving: Name of event, sponsoring organization (if any), town, date, time (if known), and, required: url of website where person can get more info. (Do NOT give street addresses, phone numbers or email addresses. People should go to the website to get that info.) We plan to publish an Events Coil every month. If the event you leave in a comment takes place after the date of the next Events Coil post, we will also include it in the main section of that post.