Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Review: Jailbreaking the Goddess

Jailbreaking the Goddess: A Radical Revisioning of Feminist Spirituality by Lasara Firefox Allen (Llewellyn Publications, 2016), 7.4” x 9.1” trade paperback, 288 pages. Also available as an ebook.

 Wow! is my first reaction to this extraordinary book. As I settle down to try to contain my excitement, I will attempt to tell you the reasons for my reaction. For starters, Lasara Firefox Allen not only revisions Goddess “faces” (aka, aspects or archetypes), but she also brings into her analysis, the feminist theory of intersectionality . She deconstructs what has become the traditional Goddess archetype in modern Goddess religion and Paganism of Maiden/Mother/Crone, because, as she writes on the first page of the first chapter, “We are more than our biology.” She points out that the triple Goddess concept is rooted in patriarchy. (Most sources trace its origins not to antiquity, but to the 20th century writings of Sigmund Freud and Robert Graves.)

In the second chapter titled, “More Than Our Biology,” the author explains in depth the problems she sees with the Triple Goddess concept including its exclusion of factors outside of reproduction. This, she writes, leads to a woman’s “basic worth” being “based in utility....or usefulness, her body is a commodity”; this prevents her from having “full self-determination.” She also sees it as excluding women who can’t or don’t want to have children, women who cannot have menstrual periods, and women born without uteri. She suggests that women’s bodies have been “colonized” by the dominant culture, delves into the ways that various groups—including racial, ethnic, and “trans”—have been colonized more or differently from others, and suggests ways to counter the dominant culture’s definition of woman as biologically-determined. She also discusses non-binary gender identity and the role of women’s use of language in various cultures

Firefox Allen describes herself as “a white woman” who acknowledges her “position and privilege,” and is dedicated to “the concept and practice of intersectional feminism.” She writes that in this book she is “making it up” as she goes along, and invites readers to do the same and not to necessarily accept or follow what she proposes. The bio on the inner flap of the book’s back cover describes her as a “family traditions Witch and second generation ordained Pagan priestess.”

She notes that she will be using some words that readers may not be used to, such as “feminal” (which I like— she frequently uses it where others might use “feminine” and sometimes “female”). She apparently has resurrected this word, as the Oxford dictionary defines it as archaic. Also noting that she uses the word “archetypes,” but not in the usual Jungian way, she proposes that the Maiden/Mother/Crone trinity be replaced by five “faces” or aspects of the Goddess with Latin names. Taking the definitions from the inside flap of the front cover, these are :
 --Femella: “girl. . . .the primal child, the divine child
--Potens: “able, patent, might, strong, powerful…the woman of strength, full of potential and power, bursting forth.”
--Creatrix: “female creator….the mother, the maker, the author.”
--Sapientia: “wisdom, discernment, intellect, a science….Master of her craft, teacher, leader, woman of science & art.”
--Antiqua: “Ancient, aged, time honored, venerable, traditional, essential….the old woman, the dreamer, the storyteller, the witch at the gate.”

The author greatly expands on these inside the book, devoting a chapter to each new face. She suggests that these aspects are not necessarily connected to age, but can also be connected to the stage we find ourselves in our lives—and that we may inhabit more than one face at a time, depending on the circumstances.

The chapters for each of her five proposed new faces of the Goddess begin with the “sigil” (magical symbol) and beautifully written poetic prose description of that particular aspect. They end with a poem/invocation to that aspect. Some of the material within these chapters include descriptions of the aspect in her “Occult” and “Empowered” (words she uses because she dislikes the racial implications of “dark” and “light” [as do I]) appearances, sexuality, stages of womanhood not necessarily linked to biology, deities from a wide variety of cultures that may be related to this particular face, attributes, relationship to elements, animals, plants, weather, seasons in both global hemispheres, holidays whose sources may be religious/spiritual or secular, and suggestions for rites, rituals and observances.

And all this is just in Part 1 of the book, which ends with a short chapter, “ Rewilding: the Path from Here.’’ This chapter acts as a transition to Part 2, which discusses “relationality, liberation, collectivism, self-reflection, and magick.” Its first chapter (chapter 9 of the book) discusses philosophical and ethical concerns of “The Relational” including collective liberation and personal responsibility. This chapter also discusses why “Intention is Not Everything,” revolving around the question of whether we are able—or even would want to—create our own reality. In the section immediately following this, Foxfire Allen writes: “We cannot live in the ‘believe it, and it shall be so’ and ‘everything happens for a reason’ bubble without casting blame on those whose cultures are being constricted, starved, contaminated instead of looking at the real perpetrators of the desecration.” Among the topics also discussed in Part 2 are “decolonizing our magicks” and the shortcomings of “White Feminism’; “Decentralizing Your Working Group” including examining and changing group power structures; being drawn to specific deities and spirit possession; and information and advice on creating rites of passage and other rituals. The book also includes two Forewords, one by Ariel Gore and another by Rosa De Anda, and an appendix with “Magical and Ritual Considerations for a New Practitioner.”

It seems to me that Jailbreaking the Goddess can be considered part of a trend in the last decade or so of books and teachers presenting alternatives to what was/is assumed to be ancient Goddess practice but at least some of which, like the triple Goddess concept, can presently be traced only as far back as the early 20th century. Examples of relatively new ideas and alternatives include Carol Christ’s She Who Changes (2003), which seeks to combine Goddess religion with process theology; Glenys Livingstone’s PaGaian Cosmology (2005), which combines the Maiden/Mother/Crone “female metaphor” with current scientific theory; and The Queen of Myself (2o04) by Donna Henes, whose proposal that “Queen” be added between Mother and Crone has been adopted in the teachings of Rev. Ava of The Goddess Temple of Orange County. What can also be considered another part of this trend is people creating alternatives in other religions, such as the 13 priestess paths related to both the understanding of the female divine and human or legendary women in [Rabbi] Jill Hammer and Taya Shere's The Hebrew Priestess (2015) and drawn from their work as leaders of the Kohenet Hebrew Priestess Institute.

Speaking of updating, I want to mention the use of the term “jailbreaking” in this book’s title, as well as another incident that I’ll get to shortly. When I first saw “Jailbreaking” in the title,I was a bit startled. I showed the book cover to two other people. One had a little familiarity with Goddess spirituality and the other had none. Both people had the similar reactions to mine (I didn’t tell them mine until after they told me theirs), which went something like “Why does the Goddess need to be broken out of jail?” “What did she do wrong that caused her to be imprisoned?” “If we help her break out of jail, aren’t we also doing something illegal?” Of course the Goddess hasn’t done anything wrong and neither have we. But that seems to be a gut response for some people. So I thought about it, knowing at that time only a bit about what was inside the book. I decided that what the title really meant was something like freeing the Goddess or liberating the Goddess. And I had another thought: Maybe there was another meaning for jailbreaking I think I favor this iPod/iPad/iPhone-related definition as a metaphor for breaking out of limitations in general because there is less confusion about meaning. The second incident also seems techie-related. In Chapter 14, “Ritual Elements and Templates,” in a section of templates for “Rituals of Invocation and Rituals of Initiation,”  there is discussion of guided visualizations. But sometimes (at least in the copy the publisher sent me) the word is spelled "vizualizations" in the heading and "visualizations" in the text (often directly under the heading spelling). What’s going on here, I wondered and headed over to Google again. And guess what! There is a spelling with the 2 z’s and it’s apparently related to technology,  possibly adopted from street slang, “Vizual.” So I have to wonder, was this a magickal manifestation of the contemporary Goddess Computa?

Before leaving this review I want to mention that throughout the book, as part of each section (yet set apart typographically), the author gives suggestions for journaling topics and subjects for action (voluntary, of course). This increases the book’s usefulness not only for individuals, but also for use in groups and classes.

I also want to note – as the author herself recognizes in several places – that not everyone will agree with some of the ideas nor want to adopt some of practices discussed in this book. (For example, I am not comfortable with the idea of me practicing spirit possession though I have observed it on a few occasions and understand and respect it as part of a number of cultures’ practices.) That we might not agree with everything in the book doesn’t detract from its value – in fact, may increase its value – as Firefox Allen offers a vast array of different ideas/practices and encourages readers to adopt or develop whichever they wish.

Jailbreaking the Goddess is a scholarly, spiritual, poetic book. Theoretical and practical and inspirational, it is beautifully structured and beautifully written – a welcome contribution to the growth of feminist/Goddess spirituality at this time of evolution and expansion in these living religions.

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At Saturday, July 30, 2016 1:22:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and review Jailbreaking the Goddess. I'm glad it affected you positively.

I am sure the spelling of visualization was cleared up by the final copy. :) I wish I could send out the final copy as an ebook but that isn't possible.

Thanks again for the review.

Blessings of love and power,

At Sunday, July 31, 2016 5:39:00 AM, Blogger pagaian said...

Thank you Judith for this review, and for mentioning PaGaian Cosmology as one of the new Goddess practices. I would like to refute the claim that the triple Goddess concept is rooted in patriarchy, and that it origins are traced to Freud and Graves. Maria Gimbutas notes its ancient roots (p.97 The Language of the Goddess) and Durdin-Robertson, Erich Neumann and Adele Getty have images of trinitarian Goddesses from early in the millennium. Their qualities vary, but the are triple Goddesses. Michael Dames points out that one of the valencies of the Triple Spiral of Newgrange (2400 B.C.E.) is a triple Goddess of that place - Eiru, Fodla and Banba. Freud and Graves had a particular reduced take on the ubiquitous Triplicity: I am sure they had little understanding of it, reducing it as they did, exclusively to the human female's menstrual transitions. To throw out the "triple Goddess concept" is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

Yet in regard "we are more than our biology": My understanding of biology is that it is inseparable from consciousness/spirit/mind ... we are matter, which imo is "bio-spiritual" - there is no separation; and add to that the understanding that the triplicity of old is innate to Cosmic creativity ... evident in all body cycles like breathing and eating, but which unfolds at all levels of reality (waxing, peaking and waning basically, but with much more complexity in most cases) - female menstrual transitions is just a small slice of the pie. The limitation of it to that may well be useful to the patriarchy - but my sources have never been Freud and Graves. There are plenty of Goddess scholars whose research takes us deeper - with more knowledge of this Earth and place of being. And as you know, I add science to that.

The naming of 5 stages of modern women's lives is something quite different from Cosmic Creativity: to my mind it is more like Psychosynthesis. Psychosynthesis is a useful tool, but is not a replacement for the qualities of Cosmogenesis, which is where I position my feminist spirituality. For me, and my work of PaGaian Cosmology, Goddess IS Cosmogenesis ... She is the unfolding Cosmos, and we (like all beings) cannot be separated from that: in that sense we are "our biology" because we are the web of life - inseparable.

In regard the terms "dark" and"light": again it is a patriarchal problem that "dark" has been assigned a negative value. To throw out the terms, and not restore integrity to "dark" - and negative to "light" (as you can if you live in a hot overly sunny place), is to throw the baby out. To know "dark" as fertile Source, and Love itself, would surely be a better strategy.

To my mind then, based on your review, this book keeps Goddess in jail, caught in a dualistic frame.

At Tuesday, August 09, 2016 9:50:00 AM, Anonymous Annie said...

To Pagaian: about your last paragraph especially--from reading the review, I don't understand your conclusion--reviews can't cover everything in a book!And I don't understand how you ccan criticize a book without reading it first!

At Tuesday, August 09, 2016 9:33:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Pagaian - I do hope you will read Jailbreaking the Goddess before you toss it in the rubbish heap. :)

Best of luck to you, either way.



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Judith Laura

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