|Painting by Elisabeth Slettnes|
Women first lost their position as spiritual leaders and teachers when Egyptian pagan Hypatia, a brilliant scientist, mathematician, and philosopher, was maligned by one of the first Christian zealots, bishop Cyril (later sainted). Cyril opposed Hypatia, claiming she represented heretical teachings, including experimental science and Pagan religion. It was said she was a woman who didn't know her place.
Cyril’s preaching against Hypatia instigated a mob of Christian monks who one day dragged her from her chariot and, according to accounts from that time, stripped her, killed her, stripped her flesh from her bones, scattered her body parts through the streets, and burned some remaining parts of her body in the library of Caesareum. Lost for all time was the written record of Hypatia’s work that was a treasured part of the library.
From that point on, out of fear for their lives, women allowed themselves to be kept silent in the religious, academic, and political, spheres of society. Many remain there today, with Muslim women living under the heel of their fathers and husbands, denied free movement and an education. Catholic women are denied positions as bishops and popes. Some evangelical sects in America to this day allow women to teach only children, as it is forbidden for women to teach men.
INDOCTRINATION IN PATRIARCHIAL RELIGION
As a female growing up in the 1950s, I accepted what I was taught, that men held positions of importance politically and culturally, while women stayed at home and performed basic tasks for their husbands and children. I was taught that there is only one God, who is father, son, and spirit, a divine family completely devoid of a mother. When expected to join the church at age 10, I declined to do so, feeling that by joining man’s church I was denying everything that it meant to be female.
I must give credit to the internet for introducing me to women’s spirituality and the Feminine Divine. After years of trying to find my niche in Christian religions, studying the Bible in depth and even becoming a lay preacher and liturgist, I still felt spiritually malnourished. Several vital components were missing. While I felt a powerful connection to Nature, organized religion taught only that man has dominion over it. I never felt above Nature, but rather an integral part of it. When I finally opened myself to the creative force of the universe that can only be described as Mother, I knew at last I was home.
Like most children of my era, I had a mother, but unfortunately had never bonded with her. I longed for the embrace of Goddess spirituality and found it in my Celtic ancestry. After being taught in institutionalized religion that it was forbidden to call upon ancestors or any other teachers/masters, I could no longer deny the truth. I know where I came from and to whom I shall return. It was finally time to recognize the beauty in being female, to rise above the attitude that we must bear the “curse,” and to touch within us the animus and anima as balanced spirit.
Growing up a tomboy in a family without sisters and having a distant relationship with my mother, I had never felt a true sisterhood in any of my friendships with other women. This is especially true for me as a victim of childhood sexual abuse by a female babysitter. But when I finally connected to the Feminine Divine, I discovered an incredible benefit – sisters; beautiful, wonderful, spiritual women, women seeking the same spirituality and feminine foundation I was. Within the Pagan community one finds a closeness with other women that makes friendships deeper with shared spirituality opening up a level of connectedness never before experienced. Even though distance prevents most of us from virtual meetings and gatherings, shared sisterhood brings with it a bond deeper than most virtual friendships. Distance does not lessen the relationships one bit.
The competitive attitude that separates women in today’s society does not exist within the Pagan community. While intellectual differences occasionally surface, the animosity and competitiveness one finds between women in different fields of endeavor has been replaced by love, respect, and acceptance of one another. Pagan women have come to support one another whether they are in their maiden, mother, or crone years. Each stage of womanhood is celebrated and cherished. Women who choose to be stay-at-home mothers are supported by their spiritual sisters; and women who choose the corporate world are never viewed as enemies of motherhood. We work together. We play together. We cheer each other on.
TAKING BACK WHAT IS OURS
When men took over the business of delivering babies, they sought to have complete control over the birthing process and they succeeded, even to the point of discouraging new mothers from nursing their babies, encouraging them to give manufactured formula instead. In an effort to “clean up” childbirth, women had their pubic hair shaved and endured an enema to empty their bowels. They were then propped up in stirrups so they could not move and sterile cloths were draped over them. Sometimes, if it was a matter of convenience for the doctor, the baby was delivered by caesarian section.
In ancient times, giving birth was under the control of the women. When a woman gave birth, she was assisted by a midwife and other women in the clan. There are times when a hospital setting is necessary for the health and well being of the woman and her child, but most routine births were and are less complicated and completely natural. We are learning… Because of the Pagan feminist movement, mothers are more and more turning to midwifery for pre-natal, natal, and post-natal care.
LOOKING TO NATURE
There is nothing more natural than our bodies, sex, and healthy appetites. Within religious sects who follow biblical tenets, nature has been deemed sinful and leads one to separation from deity. The Bible gives a lesser value to female babies and considers a woman “unclean” for several days following childbirth, and for a longer period of time when she gives birth to a female child. Looking to animals in nature, we find no such distinction, and new mothers are devoted to all offspring, regardless of gender.
It is no wonder we have come to hate our bodies and seek to alter them into an impossible form that we see presented in advertisements and the media. Pagan women have left those unnatural influences behind and are happier and healthier for it emotionally as well as physically. Our cycles are the Moon’s cycles and we love our sagging breasts, broad hips, gray hair, and wrinkles. We have earned them.
In nature, all places are sacred places. You do not have to build opulent temples and churches in which to find God. Deity does not reside in buildings; She resides in everything, most assuredly in those who have searched and found her within. Our hymns are the songs of the birds, the rush of the sea, and the voices in the wind. Our Mother does not hold you to Her with threats of judgment and eternal punishment. She is the purest unconditional love you will ever know. While we still make mistakes, a Pagan takes full responsibility for all actions, good and bad, in the here and now. The soul returns untainted and uncorrupted to its source.
THE MOON & ANCIENT FAITH RECONSTRUCTED
Have you ever looked into the night sky and found the Moon has a strange power to stir something deep inside you? Does gazing at every phase leave you feeling a sense of awe and peace? Our ancestors saw the Moon as sacred and a reflection of the security we have in our seasons. We who have come back to our Pagan roots experience that same awe and peace, as we recognize the Moon as being the symbol of our Creator Mother and worship Her at its fullness and darkness equally.
Blessed are women today who have discovered the Goddess within. Unconditional love is ours. We are accepted as we are and given great power to use for our benefit and the benefit of others. With our sisters there is nothing we cannot face, nothing we cannot conquer. Let us journey forth together and claim all that we deserve.
by Susan Mehegan, Selection from the upcoming Girl God Anthology, Whatever Works: Feminists of Faith Speak.
|Celeste Gurevich, Whatever Works Contributor|
Whatever Works is a unique collection of writing by feminists of diverse faiths from around the world. This anthology combines personal essays, poems and academic musings with the goal of sparking conversations among women of all faith backgrounds. Religion plays a key role in defining and maintaining value systems, and yet it is often disregarded within feminism itself. This book shares the stories of highly diverse women with the hope that we can find collective solutions to the global problems that plague women and girls living under patriarchy.
Susan Mehegan is a 67-year-old spiritual counselor living on the south coast of Lake Ontario in Upstate NY. Her family is a mix of three generations as well as three generations of 11 cats. Susan has been married to her high school sweetheart for nearly 50 years, has two children, eight grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Her days include walks in the country, identifying and harvesting wild plants, which she uses dried and in tinctures for remedies and magical purposes.