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

sw89 review Foremothers

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Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries is a valuable historical document on whose cover is a beautiful painting of Xiwangmu (a Queen Mother and one of the eldest Chinese deities) by artist and historian Max Dashú.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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Crafting Calm by Maggie Oman Shannon

Crafting Calm: Projects and Practices for Creativity and Contemplation
Maggie Oman Shannon
Viva Editions, 2013

sw88 - review - Book review Crafting Calm

Review by Beth Lynch.

We are in the midst of a handcrafting Renaissance: not only are people rediscovering the value of handmade items and the handmade lifestyle, but they are also finding profound rewards in crafting as a spiritual exercise, both for meditative purposes and as acts of devotion. Much of my own work focuses on Making (manifesting the spiritual in physical form) as a spirit work path, so I was cautiously excited to receive my review copy of this book. My initial caution stemmed from the fact that the book was written by an interfaith minister, and several of the projects (such as the Biblical garden and prayer shawl) seemed to have a Christian slant to them. While I am not anti-Christian by any means, I have noticed that a large segment of the handcrafts revolution seems to lean towards conservative Christianity, and as a pagan artisan that sometimes makes me a little uncomfortable.

However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that while there are creativity-themed quotes from the Bible and from Christian mystics, as well as interviews with Christian crafters, sprinkled throughout the book, these are accompanied by a wide variety of interviews and quotes by crafters from other traditions such as Judaism, the “new age,” and paganism. The purpose of these quotes and first-person snippets is not to proselytize but simply to demonstrate how the practice of conscious and mindful creativity can enrich your spiritual path, whatever that specific path may be. So, while this is certainly not a pagan book per se, I would encourage pagans not to let that deter them from checking it out. In fact, after reading it I found it more relevant to my own practice than a witchy-themed crafting book I reviewed not too long ago—thanks, largely, to Shannon’s guiding premise that any crafting project can become an exercise in spiritual crafting if your focus is on connecting with Spirit (aka God, the gods, or fill in your preferred Holy Name here) through the process of creation. While some of the projects in the book are things that I already make for myself (such as power pouches, anointing oils, spiritually inspired gardens, and intention/prayer jewelry), others (such as prayer mats, personal prayer flags, and visual journals) have been added to my list of ideas I may want to try my hand at in the future. There are forty suggested projects in all, interspersed with lots of personal stories and anecdotes from a number of different artisans, and the author also includes six pages of resources for further study and reading.

The only other qualm I had about this book was that there were no photographs (only crude drawings) of the completed projects; in a few cases, such as with the prayer shawls and prayer mats, the verbal instructions were a little confusing and I wished there were some more visual examples of how the results could look. While I can appreciate that the author may not have wanted to provide photos because some people might feel restricted by them, rather than allowing their creativity to flow freely, I still think the book would have been enriched by a “gallery” section at the end showing how some of the examples discussed throughout the chapters turned out. However, this is a minor quibble, and Crafting Calm would make a worthwhile addition to the library of anyone interested in infusing their creativity with Spirit—or vice versa!

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The Gift of Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett

The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life
Robin Rose Bennett
North Atlantic Books, 2014

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Review by Rebecca Bailey.

In The Gift of Healing Herbs: Plant Medicines and Home Remedies for a Vibrantly Healthy Life, author Robin Rose Bennett sets a high goal: to write a 21st-century herbal that is practical for both rural gardeners and urban foragers, complete with a scientific look at the working systems of the human body and a thorough introduction to the concept of soulful healing. This book admirably and compassionately succeeds.

Bennett’s credentials for writing such a book are impressive. During her younger years, she studied with many well-known herbalists. Her biography states that she has been working as an herbalist in private practice since 1986, and that she has guest-lectured at prominent medical colleges throughout the United States.

The book’s organization is logical and systematic. The first four chapters cover the concept of healing, beginning with the statement that “All healing is spiritual healing,” and include the importance of ritual and ceremony in the healing process. The third chapter covers soulful healing. Bennett explains that “Soulful healing asks, while you are healing your body with herbs from the Earth, that you look for meaning in what is happening within your body as it related to your whole being . . . . The questions are: ‘What is the deeper teaching in this experience?’; ‘What is here for me?’; and ‘How can I make this experience an ally for my growth and transformation?’” (10). She goes on to stress the point that while we may see illness as keeping us from our path, “you cannot be off your path; your path is always under your feet” (11).

The largest, middle section discusses each of the body’s systems (the cardiovascular system, the nervous system, the respiratory system, and so on) and the herbs which are most nourishing to each of those systems

What are generally considered the most powerful healing herbs (hawthorn, nettles, dandelion, burdock, lavender, oats, slippery elm, etc.) are discussed at length with reference to the body system to which they provide the most benefit—for example, mullein with the respiratory system. Bennett’s approach to using herbs focuses on the “pro” rather than the “anti”; for example, she prefers terms such as pro-digestive and pro-circulatory to terms like antiparasitical or antifungal. “I think that affirming what the herbs can help us with is more in keeping with the energy and spirit of herbal medicine!” she writes (17).

Many examples of healing remedies are given throughout the book, case histories, if you will, almost all given from Bennett’s decades-long experience as a practicing herbalist, including how she has used herbs in support of her own health. If an herb is traditionally cited in the literature for a particular treatment but she hasn’t used it in that capacity herself, she says so, and gives a reference for the information.

This is definitely a North American herbal, specifically of the eastern United States. The majority of the herbs are common in the wild or easily nurtured in a garden; most can be bought dried in health food stores. Endangered plants, such as American ginseng and goldenseal, receive less focus here than in many herbals, which I find a respectful way of honoring the plants.

The last section of the book is called “Everything is Medicine,” a chronicle of the many common foods in our kitchens can be used to strengthen and tonify specific body systems.

I especially enjoyed some of the less-expected information, such as herbs for treating tick-borne diseases, herbs for dental health, and how to make an herbal electrolyte replacer with two very common ingredients. I learned more about my life-long ally dandelion, and found some great ideas for additional ways to use her flowers. The author’s recipe for mullein cough syrup is similar to the one my grandmother used, and even though I once loudly proclaimed that I’d rather be sick than swallow it, I’m thinking that it might at last be time for me to make some myself.

The book is readable and rational, spiritual, creative, and inspiring. It’s fun to read. The section on making herbal preparations is clear and easy to follow, references plentiful, stories well-told and to the point. If you’re in the market for a new herbal, to update or begin your library of traditional medicine, Robin Rose Bennett’s The Gift of Healing Herbs is an excellent choice, not the least because the author obviously loves people as well as plants. This readable and useful book is very highly recommended.

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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

sw88 - review - Voices of the Sacred Feminine

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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Wild Women, Wild Voices by Judy Reeves

Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness
Judy Reeves
New World Library, 2015

sw88 - review - wild woman, wild voices review

Review by Rebecca Bailey.

What is a wild woman? What is her wild voice?

Judy Reeves is a writer and a writing teacher who has recognized “twin urges” in women: to reclaim the true (or authentic) nature that is usually kept below the surface of everyday life and to give it voice. In Wild Women, Wild Voices: Writing from Your Authentic Wildness, Reeves presents in book form her most popular writing workshop. The book is a thoughtful and inspiring read full of beautiful tools to help women “write to celebrate, heal, and free the wild woman within.”

“By nature we are creative,” Reeves affirms. “Creativity flows through us like blood in our veins. In our natural state we are writers, dancers, singers, poets, and makers of art, even though in our daily lives we may not practice our art or even acknowledge this part of ourselves . . . . Try as culture, politics, religion, or families might to eradicate it, this knowledge of our innermost Self—intuitive and rich and wild—is always with us,” even if we stutter when we attempt to express ourselves.

In her workshops, she brainstorms with participants to tie into words what nearly all women feel when we pair the words women and wild: the color red, earthy smells, nature-connected, creative, fierce, brave, wise, undomesticated.

The wild voice, as Reeves defines it, “is untamed and unbounded and holds the possibility of great beauty . . . Wild voice can be dangerous; it can be outrageous.” This book is not about editing and grammar or placing any restrictions on word-flow, but instead invites women writers to tell their stories and their truths from a place that is deep and true. It’s not about making nice.

The book’s chapters provide “explorations” (rather than writing exercises) of several arbitrary stages/cycles of a woman’s life, not only chronology (being a child, becoming a mother), but the geography of our lives, the illumination that can be provided when we are courageous enough to face our shadow-selves, our quests and life journeys, dreams and death. Offerings from professional writers and workshop participants are presented throughout; each and every one is worthy of contemplation.

I did many of the “explorations” as I read through the book; some I skipped, although there were things that felt like they would be fun to do. An example: write messages to yourself about your wild woman qualities with lipstick on your bathroom mirror! (I am not a woman who owns lipstick, or else I certainly would have done it.)

As a long time writer and writing teacher, I was more drawn to her writing prompts. My real name is . . . Yesterday my name was . . . Secretly I know my name is . . . My mother never told me . . . I never told my mother . . . Pick one, light a candle to acknowledge your move into the space of the wild, and write without stopping for five minutes. I paired the last two, and was surprised by what emerged.

I also found the writing selections evocative and inspiring. In thumbing through the book, a poem title jumped out at me, “If Death Were a Woman.” A lightning bolt struck something inside me, and I grabbed paper and pen. “If Death Were My Grandmother” poured out—rather than a skeletal spectre with a blade, I imagined Death coming to me as my beloved and much-missed Grandma Crisp, who would give me time to feed the cats before I joined her and my mother; in death we three would be the same age and be best friends for eternity. I can’t imagine ever again personifying Death as a clanky old mean man. That’s the kind of power the tools in this book can provide.

Appendices include suggestions for creating a Wild Woman Writing Group, chapter end notes, recommended reading, and an index (which always makes me happy). Definitely I’ll be using ideas from Wild Women, Wild Voices when I teach a writing workshop again. Highly recommended, especially for women who want to express themselves through writing but don’t know how to begin, or for those who find themselves bored by their own writing. When our writing begins to contain surprises, we know we’re writing in our wild voices. When it’s fun, when it’s exciting. Our stories, our truths, are all valuable. Judy Reeves provides a trusty roadmap for this introspective part of the journey.

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Warrior Goddess Training by HeatherAsh Amara

Warrior Goddess Training: Become the Woman You Are Meant to Be
HeatherAsh Amara
Hierophant Publishing, 2014

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Review by Pegi Eyers.

In contrast to the external demands on contemporary women such as perfectionism in the workplace or conforming to a “beauty ideal,” our best self is found in living our personal truth and authenticity, in whatever shape and form that takes. With over 20 years’ experience developing circles, programs and trainings that empower women to realize their full potential, HeatherAsh Amara has identified our liberatory calling as “The Path of the Warrior Goddess.” Finding her greatest joy in opening others to their “entelechy” (the unfolding of inherent talents and personal mythology), her dedication to the flourishing of each woman and the energy of the Divine Feminine shines through on every page. As a fan of The Four Agreements teachings, I found it incredibly exciting that HeatherAsh is an apprentice of Don Miguel Ruiz, and has advanced The Four Agreements into the sphere of women’s empowerment!

Based on Goddess Spirituality, contemporary self-help and her Thirteen Moons program, HeatherAsh has synthesized research and experience with diverse streams of spirit and knowledge to create Warrior Goddess Training. Deeply grounded in the earth connectivity of ancient European traditions and informed by indigenous mind, she guides us to take flight through the uncovering, unlearning, and healing of “old stories” to the freedom of self-actualization in the physical, emotional, intellectual and energetic realms. The book holds ten lessons, beginning with a commitment to self-acceptance, unconditional self-love and personal power, followed by a rejection of the binary thinking, false identities and illusory “agreements” we all carry, to the embrace of natural cycles and the impermanence of life. Letting go of the need to control is key (we all struggle with that one!), as we learn to surrender with love and grace to each unique experience and gift.

Building on each lesson like jewels on a string, energetically clearing body, mind and emotions to form the “sacred temple of self” is next, followed by the grounding that provides a base for transformation, finding our anchors in self-love, earth roots, connection to divinity and honoring the Ancestors. HeatherAsh guides us through a re-evaluation of our beliefs on sexuality, and shows us how to deconstruct old patterns in favor of sacred expression, positive body image, healing the sexual flow, and channeling the life force into creativity and joy. Instead of giving away our personal power by people-pleasing, distraction, isolation or over-controlling, she shows us how igniting our own will and focus is the path to freedom. Accessing the wisdom of the heart and practicing lovingkindness nourishes us, and brings us to a place of balance in our relationships with others. Finding our authentic voice and speaking our truth at all costs, paying attention to intuition and embodying the deep awareness of Toltec “silent knowledge,” honors the feminine archetypes of Oracle and Crone. And lastly, we can move beyond traditional roles to re-define ourselves and expand our paths, reclaim our Goddess Warrior Energy, manifest our true purpose, and become our most powerful beautiful self!

HeatherAsh reminds us that our happiness is not found in consumerism or aligning with superficial power structures, but by releasing layers of old habits and claiming authentic treasure. “We are the ones we have been waiting for,” and the paradigm shift to the Divine Feminine today means moving away from other-focused to inner-focused. Embracing the wisdom and guidance in Warrior Goddess Training can empower us to transcend the domestication and negative influence of the patriarchy, and more importantly, to transform the internal limitations we have placed on ourselves.

All around the world, women are stepping forward to invite back their authentic, creative, wonderfully unique selves. We are shedding the old, faded clothes of war, domination, competition, jealousy, and repression. We are rising like the sun, shining big and bright as the full moon. We are saying yes to the power of fierce love, compassion, constant authenticity, and vulnerability. These are the attributes of our warrior focus and our Goddess joy. (HeatherAsh Amara)

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Women Healers of the World by Holly Bellebuono

Women Healers of the World: The Tradition, History and Geography of Herbal Medicine
Holly Bellebuono
Skyhorse, 2014

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Review by Jamie Wood.

This colorful, vibrant tome is a well-researched, eclectic portrayal of more than thirty women who have studied, safeguarded and taught herbal medicine for centuries. This kaleidoscope of our herbal inheritance emboldens the reader as they follow the journeys, spirit and knowledge of the brave and resolute women who have dedicated their lives to their unique discovery and sharing of plant wisdom.

Throughout the book, the healers consistently stress that direct experience with plants is essential to develop trust in the healing power of herbs and confidence as a healer. Their collective knowledge is derived from scientific labs to the forests, but all the healers view reciprocity and mutuality with plants as crucial to understanding and using the life essence of the land to heal and maintain health.

As the book presents five different traditions (Plant, Body, Spirit, Land and Handcrafting), readers discover a plethora of herbal practices and approaches to plant medicine. From this broad expanse of knowledge and story, the reader is drawn to the method and teacher that will bring out the healer in them. Within the Plant Tradition, the reader is introduced to influential herbalists and teachers in Western, Native Nations Medicine, Polynesian Medicine, Folk Medicine, Gypsy and Bedouin Traditions, Alchemy and Aromatherapy. In the Body Traditions section, readers learn more about healers in Ayurveda, Eastern Oriental Medicine, Midwifery, Allopathic Medicine and Pharmacology. Within the Spirit Traditions, a wealth of knowledge is presented about Flower Essence Therapy, Homeopathy, Gaelic Pharmacy, Shamanism and Spirit Medicine. Women leading Conservation, Gardening and Ethnobotany are discussed under Land Traditions. Under the Handcrafting Traditions, readers are treated to recipes with oils, pastes, salves, ointments, extracts, concentrates, water remedies, spiritual and ceremonial and what author, Holly Bellebuono, calls “earthly delights.”

Excerpts on etymology, mythology, specific herbs and their uses as well as descriptions of geography are sprinkled throughout the book. The etymology provides a “popcorn trail” to rediscover the deep connection to the power of words and highlights their journey through time to influence our world culture. Mythology grounds the information in the profound resonance of story that allows the plant wisdom to settle into the mind, body and spirit. Profiles on a variety of herbs introduce unique uses and the benefits and is rather like being introduce to a new friend at a party. Picturesque depictions of the healers’ homeland provide the framework that has inspired and guided these powerful women.

The power of this book lies in the legacy of these women and the long lineage of herbal knowledge to encourage and support the reader to become a healer in their own right. This book is a mentor, just as these women have relied upon their teachers, and provides a guiding hand, which moves from gentle to fierce, and instills a powerful confidence that we women have been healers for millennia and will continue to bring the healing powers from the natural world into the future.

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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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The Witching Herbs by Harold Roth

The Witching Herbs: 13 Essential Plants and Herbs for Your Magical Garden
Harold Roth
Weiser, 2017

wp34 review the witching herbs

Review by Rebecca Bailey.

A plant is a sacred text,” Harold Roth writes in this wonderful book. The description, the plan, the story of the plant’s spirit,” he continues, and when you tend that plant and cultivate it and groom it, you indicate to its spirit that you are receptive to its contact.” (pp. 12-13). This book’s ambitious — and largely successful — goal is to marry the art of growing plants as a gardener with using plant magic as a practitioner of the Craft.

The thirteen witching herbs selected by the author are: poppy, clary sage, yarrow, rue, hyssop, vervain, mugwort, wormwood, datura, wild tobacco, henbane, belladonna, and mandrake. Roth relies on common names and does not emphasize the scientific binomials; in my reading, this is the book’s only significant flaw. While this is not a scientific text (although much good science is included, especially about plants’ chemical compositions), readers need to know exactly which species the author means. In this aspect, as well as others, the book’s primary audience is the intermediate to advanced practitioner.

His chapter “Cultivating Your Witch’s Garden” is a thorough introduction to establishing plants in your garden. As a lifelong gardener, I appreciate his emphasis on the spirituality inherent in bonding with plants we choose to cultivate. Roth’s self-deprecating humor shines when he confesses that although he can grow datura, he can’t grow a zucchini!

I like the way the author does not shy away from what he calls “the baneful plants,” especially those in the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. He presents information on just what exactly makes them baneful, largely tropane alkaloids that can produce sinister hallucinations and behaviors and can even kill. “New Age approaches to the natural world have meant that many no longer expect plant spirits to have anything but calm and wise personalities” — in contrast, “datura gets a bang out of messing with people” (p. 178). The chapter for each baneful plant contains copious, explicit, and vivid warnings about their effects, from merely smelling the flowers to touching their leaves with ungloved hands.

This unique and well-written volume includes lore, cultural history, growing tips, instructions for magical uses of each plant and a comprehensive bibliography. A worthy addition to a green witch’s library.

I’ll give Harold Roth the last word: “No one can gainsay healthy witching herbs that you grow yourself. They are there as proof of your hard-won expertise. I hope this book leads you to experience the satisfaction, confidence, and knowledge that are born from the serious practice of growing the witching herbs and devotion to their spirits” (p. 245).

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Pagan Consent Culture

Pagan Consent Culture: Building Communities of Empathy & Autonomy
Edited by Christine Hoff Kraemer & Yvonne Burrow
Asphodel Press, 2016

wp34 review Pagan Consent Culture

Review by Hecate Demetersdatter.

This is a hefty book crammed with essays by and a few interviews with Pagans from a wide variety of traditions. Many of the essays would make excellent starting points for discussions or workshops about consent culture. The issue of consent has been of interest to Pagans for a few years now, especially in light of complaints about the behavior that is sometimes tolerated, ignored, or dealt with imperfectly at Pagan gatherings, festivals, and conferences and within some Pagan groups. Those who organize, run, and work at such events or groups will likely find this book a useful resource.

The essays are grouped into three parts:  Part I: Developing Pagan Philosophies of Consent; Part II Responding to Abuse and Assault; and Part III:  Building Communities of Empathy and Autonomy. Appendices at the end include a list of additional resources, a sample handout for a class on consent culture, and the Pagan Community Statement on Religious Sexual Abuse (2009).

Part I includes discussions of consent from the perspective of Druidism, Thelma, Heathenry, Feminist Paganism, Wicca, the Anderson Faery Tradition, Animism, and Polytheologism. Essays discuss consent as it relates to sexual initiation, BDSM, mythology, and being a god spouse. Part II includes chapters that recount personal experiences with abuse and assault, discuss how to respond to and prevent abuse, consider how to deal with consent, boundaries, and ethics in a sex-positive religion, and provide guidelines for being in community with those who have survived sexual abuse and/or assault. The essays and interviews in Part III range over wider territory, including discussions of how to raise children who understand their own boundaries and respect those of others, using mindful touch, dealing with sky clad practices, and Pagans with Asperger’s Syndrome.

As in any collection of different authors, some of the writing is quite good and some leaves a bit to be desired.  But the book is better-edited than is, sadly, true of much modern Pagan writing.  Raven Caldera’s discussion of what the BDSM community can teach us about consent is particularly well-written, as is Jason Thomas Pitzl’s essay on exploitation and initiation. Shauna Aura Knight contributes a clear and well-argued discussion of the difference between a Pagan community that is sex-positive and one that pressures members into relationships and acts to which they may not freely consent. A. Acland presents a fascinating discussion of whether the ballad Tam Lin is a rape story. At first glance, that may appear to have little to do with modern consent culture, but the author uses the ballad to make the larger point that much Pagan mythology comes from times and cultures that saw and valued consent quite differently from modern Pagans. I found it a valuable lesson in how to interpret and re-vision mythology that, while rich, can also be troubling. Mythology, as Acland notes of ballads, is a living, breathing, changing thing.

The issue of consent is one best dealt with before problems arise. This book is a valuable tool for Pagans who interact with other Pagans and parents raising Pagan children.

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