Review: The Goddess in America
The Goddess in America: the Divine Feminine in Cultural Context, an anthology edited by Trevor Greenfield, Introduction by Jhenah Telyndru, (Moon Books, 2016) 192 pages, trade paperback 5.5” x 8.5”. Also available in e-book format.
The Goddess in America looks at the American Goddess movement, sometimes also called Goddess spirituality or, more recently, Goddess religion(s), from several different perspectives. The anthology includes discussions of the influence of Native American thought and practice; influences of religions that immigrants from three other continents brought with them; “relational” factors such as feminism, shamanism, Christianity, psychology, and Witchcraft; and ways the Goddess is viewed at the present time.
In Part 2, “The Migrant Goddess,” an introductory chapter is written by Telyndru. She discusses what she considers “unique challenges” confronting American “Goddess Worshipers and Pagans” and introduces her four-part “Philosophy of Engagement” related to multicultural issues and divinities. Concluding, she writes, “One’s blood or DNA, in my opinion, is less important than how one actively engages with the culture, tradition, and societal mores of the nations from which one’s Goddesses arise…. one’s spiritual homeland is found nowhere but within one’s own heart….” Other chapters in this part focus on Irish, African and Creole, Greek (especially Cretan and Minoan), and Hebrew Goddesses. In her chapter on Irish Goddesses, Morgan Daimler explores “whether the Irish Gods travel with the people who worship them or whether they are…bound to specific places.” Sherrie Almes, in her essay, “African Goddesses and Creole Voodoo,” gives a clear distinction among the terms Voodoo, Voudou, and Hoodoo, and among their great variety of deities. In her chapter about the Goddess Ariadne, Laura Perry first includes information about her ancestry and journey with other European goddesses, then writes, “In my lifetime I’ve seen women break many societal bonds, but we still have a long way to go toward true equality. I’d like to think Ariadne and her tribe have our backs as we march forward.” In her chapter on the Hebrew Goddess, Elisheva Nester of AMHA (Primitive Hebrew Assembly USA), gives background on the difference between monotheistic rabbinic Judaism and the polytheistic “Hebrew earth tradition” whose roots are pre-rabbinic and probably also pre-biblical. Nester, a native Israeli who now lives in the United States, focuses on two Goddesses in her essay: Ashera and the considerably lesser known Rahmay.
Part 3, “The Relational Goddess,” has chapter headings that all begin with “The Goddess and the…,” the first chapter ends with the word “Feminist.” In it, Susan Harper writes, “The question of whether or not a Goddess-centered spirituality is inherently feminist is a fraught one.” In exploring this, she refers to the work of a number of Goddess and spiritual feminists, including Carol P. Christ, Z. Budapest, Starhawk, Anita Diamant, and Ruth Barrett. In the second chapter of this part, which ends with the word, “Shaman,” Dorothy Abrams focuses on her own shamanic journeys and tells of her relationship with Spider Woman and spiritual helpers and messengers. The author of the third chapter, which ends with the word, “Christianity,” is identified as Byron Ballard in the table of contents and H. Byron Ballard in the identification at the end that appears with her bio. Ballard is priestess and founder of Mother Grove Goddess Temple in Asheville, NC. In this essay, she explores the relationship between her Goddess Temple and local Christian churches, Christianity and Goddess spirituality, as well as among Goddesses and Christian saints and other figures. She writes, “As we experience the escalation of Goddess worship and its growing cultures— especially in the West— there is a kind of cold comfort in the preservation of the Divine Feminine through the machinations of Christianity.” Expanding on the irony, she goes on to conclude:“… we come back to the notion of the unveiling of the Goddess and how she has been obscured in the belly of Christianity.” The fourth chapter in this part, written by Tiffany Lazic, ends with the word, “Psychologist,” and focuses on using Goddess archetypes as a therapeutic psychological tool. The last chapter in this part ends with the word, “Witch.” In it, modern Witchcraft in the US is explained and explored by Laurie Martin-Gardner (name given without hyphenation in table of contents, with hyphen in the ending identification) as beginning with Gardnerian Wicca and developing into a myriad of types: “a spectrum” with reconstructionism at one end and eclecticism at the other end. Their common threads, Martin-Gardner points out, are Goddess and connections to a great number of cultures.
Part 4, “The Contemporary Goddess,” begins with a chapter by Phoenix Love about the pros and cons of “pop goddesses” and the difference between these humans and Goddesses who are divinities. Among the women the author classifies as pop goddesses are Marilyn Monroe, Angelina Jolie, Sharon Stone, Melissa McCarthy, and Halle Berry. Love goes on to discuss Goddesses or Goddess-like characters in movies and TV shows as well as books advising women on “how to bring out their ‘inner goddess’.” On the pop trend in general, she comments, “Those who take what they want from bits of information…without truly understanding what it means to worship THE Goddess or even A goddess cheapen what is important: reverence and understanding, respect for the Goddess and what she represents….” The author of the second chapter of Part 4 is identified as Salem Margot Pierce in the table of contents but as Margo Wolfe with her bio at the chapter’s end (according to a personal communication, the latter is the name she now prefers). She is a member of the Sisters of Avalon. She begins the second chapter in Part 4, “Rewriting the Goddess,” with the claim, “Americans don’t really have their own Goddesses.” Wolfe goes on to discuss changes Americans have made in Goddess figures and practices. The third chapter delves into the practices, rituals, classes, activism community, and probable future of the well-known Witchcraft tradition, Reclaiming. It is by written by a Reclaiming Witch, Irisanya. The fourth chapter of this part, written by Kate Brunner, a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon, poses a number of questions in exploring the return of the “wise woman” tradition, which includes her roles as healer, protector, advocate, ritualist, and “conduit of a community.” In the next chapter, Michele Leigh Warch (name per attribution with bio at end, but identified in the table of contents as Michele Sauter Warch both for this chapter and for her essay in part 1) writes about “The Goth Goddess,” first discussing a number of “dark” Goddesses of various cultures and traditions and what they have in common. She then discusses the development of “Goth” in American culture. The last chapter of the book, by Vivienne Moss, relates the Goddess to “The Role of Women in America Today.” She chooses nine “ladies to grace this essay” and recommends ways to honor them. I’ll let you discover who Moss says they are yourself but will reveal the titles she gives them: Queen of Beauty, Lady Justice, Queen of Adventure, Lady Freedom, Our Lady of the Sacred Feminine, The Warrior Queen, Our Lady of Song, Earth Warrior, The First Lady.
In addition to the author name inconsistencies, an aspect of the book that disturbed me was the use, though scattered, of male generic language. For example, in one chapter the terms “man” and “mankind” are used when both male and female is meant and preferred words for some time have been “people,” “humans,” “humanity,” “humankind” and other non-gendered terms. In another chapter, the author begins using the term “Gods,” when it seems she is referring to both female and male deities. Later in the chapter she switches to “Goddesses and Gods.” It is not clear to me whether this was an editorial inconsistency, a compromise between the writer and editor, or an editorial decision to retain the way that the author wrote a term even if it differed among authors. Since this inconsistency continues through the book, I’d bet on the last. (There is a similar inconsistency in whether or not “Pagan” is given an initial cap.) In any case, I find referring to humanity as “mankind” and humans as “man,” as well as Goddesses and Gods as “Gods” to be a throwback to language objected to and rejected by second wave feminists at least 40 years ago but which now has begun to recur elsewhere as well as in this book. In my view, such outdated language is part of anti-feminist/anti-woman activities that “disappear” or erase women and female-ness. And yes, rather an oddity in a book about Goddess.
My editorial observations aside, The Goddess in America is a wide-ranging exploration of American Goddess spirituality that is likely to interest both those new to the subject as well as those who, like me, have been involved in it for decades. It provides a welcome variety of information and points of view. Many readers, both in America and elsewhere, will find it a relevant and valuable book.