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Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries is a valuable historical document on whose cover is a beautiful painting of Xiwangmu (a Queen Mother and one of the eldest Chinese deities) by artist and historian Max Dashú.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

Want to buy this book?
Advertisements

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!

Want to buy this book?

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

wp34 review masculine goddess

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.

Want to buy this book?