Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement

Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries
Edited by Miriam Robbins Dexter and Vickie Noble
Teneo Press, 2015

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Review by Barbara Ardinger.

Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries is a valuable historical document on whose cover is a beautiful painting of Xiwangmu (a Queen Mother and one of the eldest Chinese deities) by artist and historian Max Dashú. The book opens with a list of fifteen of our foremothers who are no longer with us. Next come introductory essays by the book’s editors, Vicki Noble (co-creator of the Motherpeace Tarot) and Miriam Robbins Dexter (a protégée of Marija Gimbutas). The body of the book presents thirty-one personal essays by women of significance today in the community of the Goddess. Part 1, “Scholars,” gives us ten essays, including chapters by Carol P. Christ (I remember swapping horror stories with her about being young and female in academia in the 1970s), Elinor W. Gadon, and Riane Eisler. Part 2, “Indigenous Mind and Mother Earth,” presents seven essays by women like Luisah Teish (her chapter will break your heart), Starhawk, and Glenys Livingstone, who lives in Australia. In Part 3, “Ritual and Ceremony,” ritualists like Z. Budapest (her story is especially germane today), Mama Donna Henes (whose website is inspiring), and Ruth Barrett (the best ritualist I’ve ever worked with) write about their work. In Part IV, “Artists and Activists,” Judy Grahn, Cristina Biaggi (another fascinating artist), Donna Read (her films are, alas, available on Amazon only on VHS), and Lydia Ruyle (have you seen her Goddess Banners?) write about their work. Part 5, “Philosopher and Humanitarian,” is Genevieve Vaughan’s essay about her work, which includes building the Sekhmet Temple in Cactus Springs, Nevada, and establishing the International Feminists for a Gift Economy network. There is also an appendix with thirty-eight illustrations.

The women’s spirituality movement (also called feminist spirituality or spiritual feminism) began in tandem with the second wave of feminism in the late 1960s, when women finally noticed how patriarchal and filled with war most of the world is and nearly always has been since the peaceful Neolithic civilization of Old Europe was wiped out. First we took political action. We founded the women’s liberation movement, consciousness raising groups, and the National Organization for Women (NOW). In 1966 Barbara Jordan became the first black woman to win a seat in the Texas Senate; in 1968 Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives—and then in 1972 she ran for president; and Bella Abzug won her seat in Congress in 1970 when she said a woman’s place is in the home and in the House. Gloria Steinem founded Ms. Magazine, and we read and reread the works of Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Audre Lorde, Kate Millett, and Marge Piercy, among others. (If you haven’t read the ovular books by these women, the time to do so is now.) The women who looked more closely at religion and spirituality in the 60s and 70s were our foremothers. Many of them worked and taught us about the Goddess and goddesses in every culture right up until their deaths.

A paragraph in Miranda Shaw’s essay, “Dakinis Dancing,” captures the essence and rationale of women’s spirituality:

[It] gained momentum from the discovery of traditions in which deity is honored and envisioned as female, the earth is sacred, and women channel the holy elixir of life and spiritual blessings. When the maleness of God was no longer absolute, the foundation of patriarchal privilege crumbled, exposing gender roles as cultural constructs. We were freed to explore and esteem women’s qualities. We claimed the authority of our experience and wisdom. We rejected the dualism that values the life and creations of the mind over the life and creations of the body. … We glory in capacities once stigmatized, cherishing our capacity for bonding and empathy as an alternative and antidote for the greed, hatred, and violence that threaten our well-being and very survival (p. 79).

How to explain why women’s spirituality took root and bloomed? Kathy Jones, founder of the beautiful Glastonbury Goddess Temple, believes that “a large number of mostly women have incarnated at this time to bring awareness of Goddess back into the world again” and that we are “the same souls who were alive at the ending of the Goddess cultures in ancient times. We have returned to bring Her back to human awareness. … We have to build everything again from the group up… (p. 211).

But, she continues, “we also bring back with us buried memories of the painful and shocking experiences we suffered when the Goddess Temples and cultures were attacked and destroyed by patriarchal forces.” She goes on with an observation that is highly germane today. “We were not always the completely innocent victims of oppression,” she explains. “Sometimes we betrayed each other to save our own skins. … We had to hide who we were…. (p. 212).

Ancient wounds still hidden in our unconsciousness “can undermine” the work we do to try to change the world. “Unexpressed hurts are often projected unconsciously onto our Goddess sisters” (Jones, p. 212) and can lead to divisiveness and what some of us call “witch wars.” Ruth Barrett discusses the current debates about who can be a Dianic Witch. Barrett has always created and led rituals dedicated to the Women’s Mysteries,” which include the blood events in our lives. Now some transgender people want to join rituals created for “women-born women.” Here is a bit of Barrett’s comment on this extremely divisive issue:

Recent debates over sex and gender, who is a woman and who is not (and who gets to decide), feels [sic.] sadly, to me, like another version of woman-hating that our Dianic tradition has always had to deal with… (p. 220).

As you read her chapter, consider the implications of this issue. Read every chapter carefully and consider all the issues and the long history that women still have to deal with in a world that is becoming hyper-violent as, several chapters say, patriarchy has figured out that its time is about done and the boys are fighting as hard as they can to resist the return of the Goddess and Her strong, determined women. As Charlene Spretnak writes early in the book:

What did our movement accomplish? … We grasped that patriarchal religion—with its hierarchical institutions ruled over by a male god as Commander-in-Chief—was not simply “religion” but … a type [her emphasis] of religion that had evolved as a comfortable fit for the male psyche. This decentering of male-oriented religion freed women to evolve our own modes of deep communion with the sacred whole (p. 22).

Our work obviously has further to go. Just ask every one of our sisters who contributed a chapter to this book. Although some of the essays seem over-long and some are “I did this and then I did that and then I did something else,” every contribution to the book is well worth reading, especially by younger women who may not know about our history (which some spiritual feminists call our herstory). This book should be on the shelf of every woman in the world. (Well, at least shelves belonging to women who can read English.)

The only significant problem in this amazing book is that the illustrations are all in the appendix instead of where they are first mentioned, so we have to page through the book (or dog-ear the first page of the appendix) if we want to see what Max Dashú, Cristina Biaggi, and Lydia Ruyle, for example, are talking about. But except for this inconvenience, it’s a perfectly splendid book.

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Voices of the Sacred Feminine

Voices of the Sacred Feminine: Conversations to Re-Shape Our World
Edited by Karen Tate
Changemakers Books, 2014

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Review by Harita Meenee.

How often do you come across a women’s spirituality anthology that includes an interview with a world-famous thinker like Noam Chomsky? Yet Chomsky is not the only important contributor. Karen Tate has achieved to bring together all sorts of powerful voices that discuss religion, politics, activism, and the Sacred Feminine. She weaves a rich tapestry of interviews and essays based on her weekly Internet radio show that bears the same title as the book:

With the logo of a woman reaching out for an apple, a metaphor for Eve reaching for the Tree of Knowledge, my weekly show challenged listeners to fear not and taste the forbidden fruit! To rethink, reclaim and embrace the age-old knowledge that’s been denied us for too long. … I wanted my listeners to understand what denying the feminine face of god, whether the Great She be deity, archetype or ideal, has cost humanity – particularly women! I wanted them to know how the world might change if these ideals were once again a part of our culture and psyches.

Rev. Dr. Tate is no newcomer to the Sacred Feminine. She has written three more books exploring its diverse dimensions. SageWoman named her one of the Top Thirteen Most Influential Women in Goddess Spirituality and a Wisdom Keeper of the Goddess Spirituality Movement. In the beginning of the book, Karen describes her own journey of self-discovery. Then she offers us a true banquet of perspectives and ideas in the words of the show’s guests. You’ll certainly recognize some of their names: Selena Fox, Joan Norton, Charlene Spretnak, Ava, Barbara G. Walker, Tim Ward, Riane Eisler, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Starhawk, Lydia Ruyle, Layne Redmond, and many others.

These thinkers challenge us to reflect deeply upon the world and ourselves. They bring to surface hidden truths, ranging all the way from myth and ritual to American politics, economy, and businesses. I recommend reading each piece separately, then devoting some time to its consideration. This isn’t a book you’ll read overnight, but a treasure-trove you’ll come back to time and again. Its almost 400 pages contain many gems of wisdom!

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Artemis by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman
Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D.
Conari Press, 2014

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Review by Barbara Ardinger.

First, historical context—Thirty years ago, when Bolen wrote Goddesses in Everywoman, spiritual feminism (aka feminist spirituality) was on a steep upward flight. Whether we saw Artemis, Athena, Hestia, Hera, Demeter, Persephone, and Aphrodite as true goddesses or as archetypes, we wanted to identify with them and live more divine lives. As our high priestess Gloria Steinem wrote in the foreword, “The highest value of [Goddesses in Everywoman] lies in the moments of recognition it provides … moments of ‘Aha!’: that insightful second when we understand and internalize … [and take] one step further to an understanding of, ‘Yes, that’s why’” (Goddesses in Everywoman, p. xi). We devoured this book as we also devoured Bolen’s succeeding books.

And now—Tons of Goddess books were being published back then. It was the beginning of a great movement. Today it’s a new generation, and we’re seeing fewer such books. This may be because our daughters know more than we did at their age. Bolen opens this new book by defining “indomitable.” It comes from the Latin in + domitare: “to tame; incapable of being subdued or tamed” (p. ix). She then refers to the strong young female heroes (heras) like Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy, Lisbeth Salander in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, even—Goddess help us!—Anastasia Steele, that witless participant in sexual abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey. Back in the olden days, Bolen reminds us, our primary hera was Jo March in Little Women, published in 1868 but beloved by generations of girls who wanted something more than sappy novels about modest maidens.

Who is our new mythological and possibly archetypal hera? Bolen says it’s Atalanta, a figure from Greek mythology. She is the newborn daughter of a king who wants a son and orders her thrust out into the wilderness to die. The baby is rescued (possibly by Artemis) and brought up by a mother bear. She grows up strong and beautiful, joins the hunt for the fearsome Calydonian Boar and shoots it in the eye. Prince Meleager then kills it, and they go off into the wilderness to live together until he is killed. Now Atlanta goes home to her father and says she’ll marry the man who can beat her in a foot race, which Prince Hipponemenes (from the next kingdom over) does by throwing golden apples on the road to distract her. They fall in love. The story of Atalanta is Chapter 1 of Bolen’s new book. Myths like Atalanta’s, she says, “have the power of collective dreams and fascinate us because the themes in them are ours to inhabit or to observe” (p. 12).

Although Conari/RedWheel/Weiser needs to hire more competent editors (who can, for example spell Boeotia correctly and understand that a tabula raza is not a tabula rasa), Bolen’s new book is worth reading as she relates every aspect of the Atlanta myth and its context to the inner and outer lives of modern women (and some men). In Chapter 2, she writes about her nights as a Girl Scout camping in the wilderness under the stars. She also writes about the unfortunate habits of patriarchy, one of which is fathers who sell their daughters into marriage. Throughout the book, she tells stories about real women, some of them her patients, others authors like Cheryl Strayed who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (though Bolen wrote the book before Reese Witherspoon made the movie).

In Chapter 4, “The Hunt for the Calydon Boar,” Bolen describes this famous hunt in the wilderness. Just as Zeus hurled thunderbolts and Poseidon unleashed earthquakes and floods to express their anger, Artemis felt insulted enough to send the huge, ferocious boar to ravage the Greek kingdom. The anger of Artemis happens in modern life, too:

When a woman with a cause becomes so outraged that she is out of control and can’t see that this is damaging both her cause and herself … she has been taken over by the Calydon boar. She doesn’t care who or what her words or actions hurt. … [S]he acts as an avenger of injustice who brings retribution. … She will get even! Her Calydon boar anger grows out of all proportion (p.54).

Scary stuff! Bolen also sees the Boar (both metaphorically and Jungially) as a destructive force of nature, which can include deforestation and death and drying. Yes, destruction happens. Like Atalanta after Meleager’s death, we end up in our own private, usually inner, wilderness after disasters crash into our lives. The wilderness is also the opening topic of Chapter 5. It’s the “metaphoric landscape … where you are in your life when you are in between one major phase or identity and the next. It’s a time when you make your own way, when you do not know what will come next or how you will change” (p. 69).

Bolen uses Chapter 6 and the footrace in which Hippomenes throws the golden apples on the road to distract Atalanta to write about Artemis-identified women who run today, either as exercise or for causes. She assigns meanings to the three golden apples. Apple #1 represents “awareness of time passing.” Apple #2 represents the “awareness of the importance of love.” Apple #3 represents the “awareness of the urge to create.” There are psychological lessons in all of this, of course, as there are in the remaining chapters. Chapter 9, “Free to Be You and Me,” she writes, “fits the intention of this book. Myths and stories come most alive when there is a corresponding active archetype in us” (p. 183). As in the earlier chapters, Bolen refers to present-day girls and women as well as Greek myths to show how we can indeed find our inner goddess and be free to be our best selves. These are good lessons.

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Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral by Erick DuPree

Finding the Masculine in Goddess’ Spiral: Men in Ritual, Service and Community to the Goddess
Erick DuPree
Immanion Press/Megalithica Books, 2016

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Review by Hugh Eckert.

What is a positive and healthy expression of masculinity in spirituality? It’s a valid question for today- just skim the news and look at the reports of crimes stemming from toxic masculinity; you don’t have to look too deeply to see that all too many of them are rooted in the patriarchal structure of Abrahamic religions. Goddess-centered spirituality can (and has) provided a counterbalance, but sometimes devalues the masculine (if not casting the male as an outright enemy). This volume attempts to remedy that problem by showing paths many men have taken in revering the Divine Feminine while still honoring their own masculinity.

Despite the promise on the back cover copy of “a diverse tapestry of sacred masculine stories, rituals and poetry,” I was unsurprised (although disappointed) to find that the vast majority of selections in the book are written by followers of Wiccan, Wiccan-derived and other Goddess-centered Neo-Pagan paths. Since I’m Polytheist, there’s little of direct personal relevance to me here, but I think I can use my thirty-plus years of experience in the larger Pagan community to judge it fairly.

Much of this book consists of a series of heartfelt spiritual autobiographies- deeply personal stories of how the authors “came to the Goddess” out of stifling, unpleasant, even actively abusive backgrounds. I started to get annoyed at the repetition, but then I recalled my own past experience. This “conversion to Paganism” story is a powerful myth in and of itself, ringing changes on a litany of change and self-discovery. This is the core of the book: tales of faith and how the writers came to it; stories of hope that can bring hope to others in need of it.

There are other things to like here, as well. In his introduction, Ivo Dominguez (one of the most thoughtful and interesting writers in Paganism) give a useful exploration of the more “technical” aspects of the Powers and our interactions with them. Roxie Babylon’s poetry is intoxicating and lyrical. Puck DeCoyote and Blake Octavian Blair both had thought provoking pieces about gender fluidity and the Divine. I also found the rituals presented by Eric Eldritch and Matthew Sawicki to be powerful and inspirational (although the latter’s Hekate ritual is definitely not beginner material and should be attempted only by a well-trained group with deep existing connections to that Goddess). Similarly, Ian Allen’s work with the Magdalene was fascinating, but it’s powerful stuff and shouldn’t be done without grounding, centering and shielding.

Unfortunately, this book has its flaws. Many of the essays needed sourcing if not footnoting (and in at least one case, there were footnote numbers in the text but no notes provided). The level of writing is uneven and some pieces seem to be unedited blog posts. Many of the essays in the book were too short and compressed; I found myself wishing that Erick Dupree had limited his selection of authors and instead encouraged them to write longer and deeper pieces. And not all the contributors had entries in the “Biographies” section- this may seem like a quibble, but I find such material provides helpful context for reflecting on an author’s work.

Even so, this book is a passionate and informative exploration of the role of masculinity and masculine energy in Goddess Spirituality. Anyone teaching courses or workshops on gender and spirituality should be able to find valuable material for readings here. It’s also the kind of book I hope that young men in spiritual crisis will stumble upon or be given. With that in mind, I plan on donating my copy to a prison chaplaincy in ardent hope that it may help where help is most needed.

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Goddess Calling by Karen Tate

Goddess Calling: Inspirational Messages & Meditations of Sacred Feminine Liberation Thealogy
Karen Tate
Changemakers, 2014

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Review by Harita Meenee.

Sometimes a touch of inspiration is what we need to transform our mundane reality and infuse us with the energy of the Sacred. Karen Tate’s new book, Goddess Calling, does precisely that — and a lot more. Going through its nearly two hundred pages was a powerful and uplifting experience. I felt profoundly touched by the thoughtful and empowering views in this book: it calls out to everyone supporting the ideals of the Sacred Feminine to make a difference in the world. In her words, it is time to “find our sacred roar.”

The author is an ordained minister, author, radio show host, independent scholar, and social justice activist, who does not mince her words when it comes to politics. In Goddess Calling, Karen speaks out against corporate greed and right-wing conservatism, denouncing capitalism as a system of exploitation and discrimination, harming both humanity and the whole of the planet. We need such courageous voices, which urge us to take action.

While the author acknowledges and uses the power of ritual and meditation, she also challenges us to reexamine our old ways of thinking and break out of restricting patterns. Over the years, the author has successfully shared the messages and meditations in the book with a large number of people. She has presented related papers in academic conferences and lead services in festivals, Goddess temples, and Unitarian Universalist congregations. Through Goddess Calling, Karen has made her inspiring, transformational work available to all of us.

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Norse Goddess Magic by Alice Karlsdottir

Norse Goddess Magic: Trancework, Mythology, and Ritual
Alice Karlsdottir
Destiny, 2015

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Review by Shirl Sazynski.

It’s rare to find a beginner’s book on adept-level magic, let alone one that is well-organized, grounded, easily understood, and part of Heathenry. Norse Goddess Magic is exactly that, focusing on visionary and trance work, known to the Norse as seidhr and utiseta. It serves both as an introduction for those who have great difficulty entering trance, and provides a rare compendium of Norse goddess lore that’s useful even if you have no interest in trance work.

True to its title, this book explores the “Mother” Goddess Frigg and her twelve divine “friends” : Eir, Saga, Gna, Gefjon, Snotra, Lofyn, Sjofyn, Var, Fulla, Hlin, Syn and Vor. Karlsdottir invites personal experience with them as real people through guided journeys, invocations, and rituals. Since little is known from the Eddas about these twelve “minor” Goddesses, this book helps the reader fill in those gaps with their own experience. By exposure to — and comparison with — the trance experiences of others, it also helps in expanding upon the lore. The emphasis in this book on forging and strengthening relationships with the Gods is spot on.

This is a guide to beginning seidhr techniques, including a basic understanding of how to use myth and ritual structure to enhance entering trance, remain there, exit peacefully, and take good care of yourself afterward. The techniques covered open this oft-misunderstood realm of Asatru and Heathenry to anyone with the patience to still their mind. The structure of this book begins with how to understand mythology and its uses in ritual, ideas to open up the imagination for beginners, and a definition of trance work. Then, that work begins with basic (and fairly safe) techniques accompanied by a ritual format that provides some protection to the novice seidhr practitioner.

One caveat: trance work is never, by its nature, without danger. Norse Goddess Magic provides a compass in very unpredictable territory that should guide you to the door of the right person and send up some basic defenses. However, trance work with beings you’ve never met is exactly like wandering in a foreign country. Even a novice can stumble headlong into a profound, fate-altering experience the very first time they trance. The danger of dealing with spirits is routinely ignored in modern books on the subject, a major blind spot I wish this book had covered more fully.*

After continuing with a guided meditation, the author opens up about her own experiences in trance work. Then, a chapter is devoted to each Goddess in turn (other Goddesses mentioned briefly include Freyja, Nerthus, Frau Holle, Holda, Berchta and Brigid.) The Goddess chapters begin with lore, add interpretations by the author, continue with a guided trance journey, and close with a ritual and invocation for each Goddess.

The author’s cautious approach is very balanced. However, Alice Karlsdottir is a master in the Rune Gild, and has worked as priestess for several kindreds. I wish that she spoke with more confidence, but she is carefully circumspect that these are just her experiences.

Esoteric polytheism needs to move confidently past both this reticence from elders to pin down their own gnosis as real and valid and the fundamentalist tendency to over-humanize the Gods and their behavior based on stories laced with symbolism and meant to teach lessons (often humorously) about the consequences of certain actions within a society. Regardless of the outer path, when someone has mastered visionary work, common elements and beings occur. There are consistencies of places we arrive at, powers woven by the Gods, and elements of their appearance that do not always fit a translation of the Eddas but help signify a spirit or deity’s power and personality traits. Our ancestors certainly knew these common elements and passed on some of that knowledge. This is that shared gnosis of a living faith Karlsdottir is describing.

I can’t comment much on the use of rune lore in this book for chants and to open rituals, as it differs from the more visually-oriented methods I was taught. Other people may respond to these verbal methods more. Or the Goddesses may teach them completely different ways of working that suit their minds. (This book is certainly a good guide to seeking out that kind of knowledge directly.)

Norse Goddess Magic ends solidly with three intriguing fairy tales in the appendix, a glossary of terms, a visual guide to the runes and a bibliography jam-packed with good scholarship. Even if you’ve done seidhr for ages, this is still a very useful book to have on hand as a reference. Several times I found, in these pages, independent corroboration of details I’ve experienced in trance, leading me to believe that the author truly met with these Goddesses – whether or not we always share the same viewpoints about them.

This is a valuable contribution to a field with very little reliable guidance, especially in Heathenry. I highly recommend it.

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Njord and Skadi by Sheena McGrath

Njord and Skadi: A Myth Explored
Sheena McGrath
Avalonia, 2016

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Review by Erin Lale

Njord and Skadi is a good overview of the source material and the opinions of major scholars about these gods and their context. It also mentions some works of popular culture on the subject. The book is easy to read, and suitable for both general and academic readers.

The book has a lovely cover by Laura Daligan featuring the two title gods in a design reminiscent of a Yin and Yang sign, surrounded by a repeating Elder Futhark rune row with the variant Ingwaz and with the Dagaz and Othala in the variant reverse order.

The book starts off with a summary of the plot of the myth of Njord and Skadi’s marriage, including the prequel about Skadi’s father Thiazzi, which McGrath considers an essential part of the story. It goes into historical detail about the poem by which the myth was transmitted to us, and then quotes the poem, (in English translation) in its entirety, with explanations of the meanings of the kennings.

McGrath draws parallels between the plot of the poem and the story of Hrungnir. Then the author discusses the authenticity, dating, and interpretation of the myth of Njord and Skadi. McGrath goes into the question of whether Njord is Nerthus, examining evidence and various scholars’ opinions. She covers the origin and meaning of the name Skadi and Scandinavia. She writes about the other gods who appear in the two linked stories of Skadi and of her father.

The book strays into etymology, examines the theme of cooking in the story of Thiazzi and Idunna, and relates that to the apple motif in various Indo-European cultures. It also gives background information on the peoples and places in heathen mythology. Then McGrath tells about various interpretations of the meaning of this myth.

McGrath details the many words for giant and their connotations.This discussion relates to who Skadi is, since her father Thiazzi is a giant. A discussion of places named after Skadi follows, as well as description of historical worship of her. The author details historical evidence for giantess worship and proceeds to describe the nature of gods and giants, as well as the primal schism between them.

McGrath then presents the idea that Skadi represented a Saami woman. Skadi hunts on skis with a bow, like Saami women did. In the final few chapters, McGrath mops up some remaining questions, such as, “what is a hostage?”, and “how does that relate to Njord’s position in Asgard?”

This book strikes a good balance between providing detail for an academic reader and keeping a general reader from getting lost. The author presents a comprehensive roundup of the scholarship on the subject of this story. Recommended for pagan readers, especially for heathens and polytheists interested in Skadi, Njord, or giantesses.

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Brigid by Morgan Daimler

Pagan Portals: Brigid
Morgan Daimler
Moon Books, 2015

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Review by Hugh Eckert.

The pan-Celtic Goddess Brigid is my Patroness, so naturally I’m interested in books about Her. All too often, I find that there’s a tendency to reduce Her to a facet of the Wiccan “Great Goddess” or the “Divine Feminine” of Goddess spirituality. There’s also considerable confusion between the Goddess Brigid, and the Christian saint that bears the same name. I’m a polytheist Pagan, and for me Brigid is an individual, discrete Goddess (or set of Goddesses; a matter which Daimler addresses in her book).

With all that, I was excited to read what Morgan Daimler had to say about Brigid. Daimler is an Irish reconstructionist Pagan with a strong grounding in scholarship and an interest in presenting a balance between research and personal religious experience. This is a living faith to her, and I get the impression that her research is part of her devotion.

Daimler’s book provides a concise and immensely readable introduction to the Goddess Brigid. The book starts with an introduction to the Goddess (“Meeting Brigid”), followed by chapters on Her aspects and names outside of Ireland; Her mythology; symbols, animals and holidays pertaining to her; more modern myths, stories and practices tied to Her, and prayers, charms and chants for Her. Throughout the book, Daimler gives stories of her own experiences with Brigid and how this Goddess has affected her.

The book also has a guide to pronunciation, a list of mixed media resources, and an extensive bibliography. All in all, this is a wonderful work that balances lore with living practice. It’s subtitled “Meeting the Celtic Goddess of Poetry, Forge, and Healing Well”, and it’s just that: a valuable introduction and guide to devotion to the Goddess who holds my heart. Hail Brigid!

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Dancing with Nemetona by Joanna van der Hoeven

Dancing with Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space
Joanna van der Hoeven
Moon Books, 2014
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Review by Jennifer Lawrence.

When I first began reading this book, I was wholly unfamiliar with the goddess Nemetona. I knew the word nemeton, of course; as a member of several druid organizations, it would be difficult to remain unaware of the idea of a sacred grove. As it turns out, it isn’t odd that I was unfamiliar with Nemetona, because very little is known of her with any sort of historical accuracy. A few place-names, a few inscriptions: all that’s left to tell us about a goddess whose worship apparently once stretched from Germany to Spain to Britain. Greece, Gaul, Ireland, Wales; these places paid reverence to her, but today she has all but vanished from history, and the author tells what little is known of her within a page and a half of introduction.

The first chapter talks about one’s personal “nemeton,” which, rather than being a term for the sacred space outside of one’s body, appears to be the author’s way of discussing a person’s aura — that veil of energy which wraps around and through the physical body, changes color and shape with health and mood, and can be impinged upon by others both positively and negatively.

As the book moves into further chapters, it takes time exploring Nemetona’s titles and purviews: the Lady of Edges and Boundaries, of Hearth and Home, of the Sacred Grove, of Sanctuary, of Ritual, and finally, of Everything and Nothing. Of all these, only the final chapter seems to be a stretch: while the last title might be valid in a modern interpretation of Nemetona’s strengths (which, of course, this is), I suspect that the original peoples that venerated the goddess might have found room to argue the point. If nothing else, “everything and nothing” smacks of a monotheistic deity that rules all, and given how many modern Pagans came to Paganism after leaving such monotheistic religions, they might not want much to do with a deity that claims some of the same qualities as the god they left behind. However, the rest of the material leading up to that chapter is excellent, both well-written and well-presented, although I might have wished that the book as a whole was longer.

It was a bit of a surprise to see how much of the material in this book was originally found by the author within the ideology of Zen Buddhism. This is less odd in today’s mix-and-match Paganism than one might suspect. The Zen material woven into the book actually supports the ideas on Nemetona well enough to not be objectionable.

There is so much good material that works well in this book that the above-mentioned issues are of very small import. Not only are the exercises simple to do and effective, the greatest mass of the written material reads like poetry, full of elegant and beautiful imagery that flows like clean water. When the author describes the shadowed, quiet peace of the forest, the sweet smell of earth after the rain, the songs of the trees and the sunshine, the reader is vividly and instantly able to see that forest, smell the wet earth, and hear those songs. That ability to paint a vivid picture is one of the marks of a really talented writer. This is especially so in any book on material of a spiritual nature, where the reader must be lifted — or even torn — away from the dull reality of mundane life. That Van Der Hoeven has succeeded so well at this minimizes anything I might find fault with otherwise.

This was a beautifully-done book with some excellent exercises and enough material to give an individual the tools to begin a relationship with this obscure but important goddess and the things she rules over.

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Journey to the Dark Goddess by Jane Meredith

Journey to the Dark Goddess: How to Return to Your Soul
Jane Meredith
Moon Books, 2012

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Review by Pegi Eyers.

She is the one who makes and unmakes us. She is the one resting deep inside us when we think we have nothing left.” — Jane Meredith

The Dark Goddess as we know her is Kali the Destroyer, Hecate the Nightwalker, Morgana the Villainess, the Wicked Stepmother, Persephone Descending, and the Crone. She is also the necessary shadow side of life, the terrifying or womb-like darkness we all encounter. Sudden change, illness, accidents, grieving or sea changes of the soul — all these things can bring us face-to-face with the terrain of the Dark Goddess. Meet Her we must, but as Jane Meredith tells us, better to get to know Her ahead of time, and become familiar with the intricacies of change, healing and renewal. Journey to the Dark Goddess is a wise and wonderful guidebook for our journey into the transformational darkness and back again.

Using powerful symbols in the myths of Persephone, Inanna and Psyche, Jane traces the many stages of our visit to the Underworld, offering stories, rituals and guideposts to prepare for our Descent, our time in the Underworld, coming back, and continuing the cycle of life.

The myths and fairy tales of heroines who have lost everything, who are stripped to the bone and still come back reborn, have deep fascination and meaning for us. Similar to the many personal narratives found in the book, during my own experience with serious illness, I spent many months firmly in Her dark embrace. Feeling safe and protected at all times, I arose from the ashes and gained powerful life lessons. The Dark Mother grabbed me, held me, loved me and let me go. I learned that once you surrender and embrace Her in her full glory, powerful insights are waiting to be found.

Meredith is a superb guide to uncovering the meaning and metaphor in ancient mythologies as maps that we can apply to our lives today, and she fully grounds us in the self-inquiry and soul-expression tools such as journaling, dreaming, dancing, creating mandalas, altars, art and poetry. She offers powerful and meaningful rituals that connect us to Diety and the Earth, bringing clarity and integration to our own unique journey.

Instead of resisting, or being dragged kicking and screaming, Jane suggests that we deliberately seek out the means and methods to face the Dark Goddess. As much as the dominant society denies it, the fertility and blessings of the darkness are a natural part of nature’s cycles, such as the waxing and waning of the moon and the growth and passing away of the seasons. “Living eternally in the dark is no more a natural existence than staying eternally in the light.” Jane urges us to taste the pomegranate, open Pandora’s box and willingly step into the unknown to bring much-needed balance to our lives and the Earth.

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