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Foremothers of the Women’s Spirituality Movement: Elders and Visionaries is a valuable historical document on whose cover is a beautiful painting of Xiwangmu (a Queen Mother and one of the eldest Chinese deities) by artist and historian Max Dashú.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

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

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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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Tree Girl by Julianne Skai Arbor

Tree Girl: Intimate Encounters With Wild Nature
Julianne Skai Arbor
Tree Girl Studios, 2016

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Review by Lupa.

There are certain books that are pagan without expressly using that label; this is one of those. Part field guide, part photography book, it beautifully weaves together science and art while being spiritually viable.

The author, Julianna Skai Arbor, aka Tree Girl, has spent the past several years photographing remarkable individuals from fifty different tree species around the world. Many of these photos feature her or other female models in the nude, embracing the trees in sensual communion. Sometimes the models appear to be sleeping comfortably amid great roots and branches; other times there is a playful exploration. But always the human is only one part of a greater ecosystem, something that this book cannot emphasize enough.

For it is more than pretty pictures. Tree Girl shares in detail the natural history of each species she profiles, as well as the relationships humans historically had with it, to include medicinal uses. More importantly, she is quite clear about how our current actions are threatening many of these great plants and the many other beings who rely on them for food, shelter and more. But she also gives many excellent suggestions for how to reconnect with nature and become a better advocate for the beings we share this world with, for the benefit of all involved. This book is a bold combination of ethereal beauty and hard reality.

If this all isn’t overtly pagan enough for you, check out the titles of some of the photos: “Silver Beech Root Fairy”, “Cathedral Fig Dryad” and “Sequoia Meditation” are just a few of the animistic names Tree Girl has given her works. It’s a divinely feminine book, celebrating women’s bodies without heavily sexualizing them, and placing women in the context of the natural world around us. And within the very first chapter, she details the way in which she connects with the tree physically and spiritually. Her process should be familiar to anyone who has worked with nature spirits embodied in wood and flesh.

Whether you be naturalist or feminist, artist or environmentalist, witch or Druid or animist, this is a deeply inspirational book that you may draw deeply from again and again. As there are fifty trees, perhaps you could spend a week meditating on each one’s unique spirit, with a week on either end to prepare yourself to enter this great work or to bring it back out to share with the world. Or simply let it be something you enjoy paging through when you feel the need to live vicariously through a passionate artist’s works.

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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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