Friday, January 01, 2010

A New Year's Look in the Mirror

The sectarian New Year is often a time when we take stock of where we are and try to see what lies ahead. So I’m going to take a look at what I see as recent trends and try to peer a bit into the future to see how they are likely to develop.

Here are what I consider the most important current trends affecting Goddess spirituality/religions:
—Growing number of Goddess Temples worldwide.
—Increasing openness of Christian and Jewish groups to what they call variously the "feminine divine," "Shekhinah," Sophia," "Mother God" and a number of other terms, including in at least one case "Goddess."
—Launch of updated version of Unitarian Universalist adult-ed course, "Cakes for the Queen of Heaven" by UU Women and Religion core group and others, and use of this course by Goddess Temples.
—Increased acceptance of Paganism, Goddess, and "divine feminine" in interfaith gatherings.

There are now Goddess Temples (sometimes called by some other names such as "Houses") either in physical buildings, or undergoing construction, or in the fund-raising phase in the Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Great Britian, Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States. U.S. states where Temples are located include: California, Nevada, New York, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. (Did I leave a country or state out that has a temple? Please leave comment below so we know about it.) Because most of these Temples are not specific to one Goddess path and because many of the programs and rituals/ceremonies they hold are open, their existence and public visibility fosters expansion, introducing even more people to Goddess thought and practice. The flip side of this for some long-time Goddessians is that some Temple observances may not conform to Goddess ways they have become used to in smaller groups. I think that this is the "risk" (if that’s what it is) of growth of almost any spiritual path or religious group. But I also think that it is up to each Temple to determine what sort of observances and practices they feel are appropriate for them. It is then up to individuals to decide whether any particular Temple fits their needs. Right now, I don’t know of any town or city where there is more than one Goddess Temple—that is, where there is a choice. But eventually—probably not this year or next—maybe not even this decade—but eventually, if things keep going as they are now—this will happen. These Temples are playing a large role in bringing Goddess practice out of the closet and, if not yet quite into the mainstream, at least beginning to be considered part of the spiritual or religious picture by the public.

Along with the increased visibility of Goddess religions that are most often classified as Pagan, we are seeing in both Christianity and Judaism an increased and more public use and acceptance of incorporating either the "feminine divine" or the divine embodied as female (aka Goddess). There has been for some time (by which I mean, in some cases, since the 1970s) efforts to use female "God language" by a scattering of Jewish and Christian groups. What is different recently is that this is being done more publicly, by more groups, and is becoming more mainstream. Books (some of which have becomes bestsellers) and films have played a role in this. Especially novels, and films based on novels, bring the idea of calling the divine "She" greater mainstream acceptance. The nonfiction books also influence people within Judaism and Christianity who may not have previously been open to calling the divine "She." Two organizations that seem to have grown out of this greater public openness (as well as continuing to encourage it) are:
—the Hebrew Goddess Institute , which uses the terms "embodied," "earth-honoring," and "feminist," in describing itself and trains priestesses mainly centered around a contemporary view of the Shekhinah
The Sophia Institute, a Christian organization that includes among its goals, "integration of the sacred feminine."
In another fascinating example, Her Church in San Francisco, a Lutheran church, is calling the female divine "Goddess," producing Goddess rosaries and holding weekly Goddess prayer sessions in addition to other activities, such as an interfaith conference centering around recognition of the female divine.

I include the re-launch of the Unitarian Universalist course in my list of important trends because historically the first version of this course (c. mid-1980s) played a large role in bringing women to Goddess. IMO, it was responsible a number of years ago for the development of CUUPS (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans), and also fed other Pagan groups, as women who discovered the Goddess through this course sought to put what they had learned into practice. I might note that although the course also included material related to Judaism and Christianity, in practice some groups gave only brief attention to this material. This may be at least partly because many participants had already rejected the Jewish and Christian faiths in which they had been brought up and preferred not to hear anything more about them. I’m hoping that groups now using the updated version of the course, which contains new material on Abrahamic religions (for example, on Mary Magdalene) will include this material in their studies. Whether this course will have as great an impact now as it did about 20 years ago remains to be seen. On the one hand, even among UUs, there are many women (and the course is geared experientially to women, though some groups include men), who are not familiar with the material. For instance a year or so ago, a young woman from a UU church was referred to me by a minister because I was considering leading a (non-Cakes) Goddess group for the church. "What’s women's spirituality?" the woman wanted to know, "What's Goddess spirituality?" When I replied, she got a little snitty, indicating she felt the idea was too far out and abruptly ended the conversation. So there appears to be a need for re-education (or continuing education) even within the UU community. On the other hand, in contrast to the situation when the first version of this course became available, there is now extensive material on the course’s subjects in books, DVDs, and online. So it’s possible that the updated version may not have as great an influence in bringing people to Goddess as the first version did. But what is also interesting to me is the use of this course by at least two Goddess Temples: The Mother Grove Goddess Temple of Asheville (NC) and Goddess Temple of Orange County (CA). The latter not only opens the course to the public but also requires its priestesses to take it. The course is apparently useful in these Temples not only for Goddess newbies, but also for people involved for a bit longer, who seek a concise yet comprehensive view of spiritual feminism. You don’t have to be UU to use this course, so could a future trend be more extensive use of the course outside of UUism?

The recent Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne, Australia, is probably the best of example of the growing acceptance of Pagan, Goddess, and "feminine divine" paths among participants in many religions. Although a number of Pagans and Pagan groups have for some time been doing interfaith work locally and some nationally, it has sometimes been difficult to get recognition and cooperation from mainstream religions. Yet it seems, with the reports posted on online from the Parliament just ended, that their work has begun to bear fruit. Both Pagans at the Parliament (which has videos of many events) and Women at the Parliament report on the unexpectedly large interest in "Goddess" and "feminine divine" panels, with Pagans at the Parliament reporting that more than 400 people attended the panel on the feminine divine . Both blogs contrast the interest and acceptance with the last Parliament 5 years ago, when there was far less interest and inclusion of Pagan/Goddess/feminine divine participants and material. In a post-Parliament podcast, American Pagan Patrick McCullum tells of being one of a number of participants representing various religions with whom representatives dispatched to the Parliament by the Obama Administration met.

What does all this mean for the future? Barring any repressive measures from misguided governments, I expect to see—probably not tomorrow, or next week, and maybe not all in this new year, but as the decade progresses—more Goddess Temples, also more stationary indoor physical space dedicated to Pagan activities, either Pagan in general and shared by a number of groups (such a project as been underway in the DC area for some years), or dedicated to a specific Pagan path. (Though we may like to, and continue to, meet in outdoor spaces and eachother's homes, location in a permanent building dedicated to our path makes for stability, public visability and hopefully increased acceptance.) I also expect to see incorporation of the divine as female or the sacred feminine into some Jewish and Christian sects. In addition, I would not be surprised to see break-offs and formation of new sects or sub-sects, especially in cases where the original sect does not want to go as far in the incorporation of the female divinity as a growing group within it desires.
Ultimately in the U.S. and perhaps elsewhere, the sacred feminine becomes integrated into many sects of Christianity and Judaism while Paganism and Goddess religions, in many countries where there is freedom of religion, become mainstream paths.

Yet we should not expect everyone to believe or observe in the same fashion. There is likely to continue to be differences both among Pagan groups and among those specifically honoring the female/feminine divine. There will never be, except under oppressive circumstances, just one religion, or one way of honoring deity (or deities), nor would I want there to be. When we are in small groups and, as the current catchphrase goes, "flying below the radar," it is easier to be tolerant of many different forms of belief and practice since we can more easily select a group or group members that already share our points of view. When a group gets larger and more visible, unfortunately tendencies to oversimplify and desires to control are more likely. I’d like to see us avoid both and I think we are up to the challenge. So let us open this New Year as we would a gift, with optimism for the growth and positive changes that lie ahead.

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At Friday, January 01, 2010 4:26:00 PM, Blogger Hecate said...

What a great post!

At Saturday, January 02, 2010 10:53:00 PM, Blogger louise said...

Love it! I plan to download it and use it with my first class of "She is Everywhere: A Moving Exploration of the Sacred Feminine". I think it will be a real revelation and infusion of hope for the women who gather in my sacred feminine exploration circles.

Louise in Ashland, OR


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Judith Laura

More blogs about /goddess/feminist theology/spiritual feminism/pagan/feminist spirituality/.