Monday, September 8, 2014

Goddess Spirituality as Liberation Thealogy by Rev. Dr. Karen Tate

 
A friend of mine startled me one day when she announced she was leaving what we loosely called Goddess Spirituality because it lacked substance. Besides the Wiccan Rede, which left a lot of gray area to rationalize wrong-doing, she felt what we were learning about Goddess Spirituality didn’t delve enough into ethics and learning about individual pantheons or the Wheel of the Year was not really providing us adequate guidance as a template for living. She had made the decision to turn to Buddhism to see what it offered. Her decision stuck with me because I believed she had a point - and I kept mulling it over for sometime. I also came to believe the spirituality, devotion and inspirational aspects were often absent or in short supply as well. Yes, there was so much to learn - tarot, doing ritual and magic, herstory, astrology, comparative religion, deities, herbology, study of various traditions, sacred sites - but what about making the ancient teachings relevant to help change our patriarchal world? To uplift us and help us become better people. What did Goddess Spirituality offer? 

What first jumped out at me was Wiccans and Pagans and Goddess Advocates may very well have different wayshowers, elders and foremothers. While Wiccans and Pagans might turn to Starhawk , Selena Fox, Dion Fortune, Scott Cunningham and Ray Buckland, to name just a few well known teachers, Goddess Advocates might also turn to Fox and Starhawk, but certainly were turning to, again, naming only a few, Riane Eisler, Mairja Gimbutas, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Merlin Stone, academia and feminists. In fact, it was Merlin Stone’s When God Was a Woman and Riane Eisler’s extensive research of history in The Chalice and the Blade, that kept me on the path as I discovered herstory was not a feminist fantasy. Eisler’s dominator paradigm theory, then her partnership theories from The Partnership Way, informed the budding feminist blossoming within and laid some of the ground work leading me toward becoming a social justice activist. I could see that for some there was a fork in the road as some Wiccans and Pagans never took that path of activism that I eventually found most relevant as a Goddess Advocate. Looking back I see my own books reflect my growth as priestessing became more than making ancient rituals relevant for contemporary devotees or doing Wheel of the Year rituals. 


My earliest years as a priestess, discovering the impact of standing in Her sacred sites, culminated in writing Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations, which miraculously got me into mainstream places teaching about Goddess through the back door of “sacred travel and pilgrimage” that I might never have gained entry to had I just been teaching some aspect of Wicca or Paganism. One could easily see the diversity of Goddess by her many names and faces across the globe from ancient times to living traditions - and how to get there if you were an armchair traveler or you actually ventured out with boots on the ground.

Priestessing the community for dozens of years, starting an Iseum within the Fellowship of Isis, then later, the not-for-profit Isis Ancient Cultures Society, resulted in my documenting esoteric and exoteric experiences in Walking An Ancient Path: Rebirthing Goddess on Planet Earth, answering my experience of there sometimes being a dearth of offerings available delving into the devotion, inspiration and more spiritual aspects of Goddess Spirituality. But it wasn’t until my newest book, Goddess Calling, out in early 2014, that I connect all the dots between what I’d learned as a Priestess of Goddess Spirituality with how it all fits in with social justice and politics. Getting beyond Wicca 101, tarot, astrology, ritual making and all the rest, I realized what Goddess taught us was in fact the new liberation thealogy of our time. Goddess set us free from patriarchal oppression!

While Christianity might have once been considered liberation thealogy as slaves and women flocked to this new religion offering them hope from their plight in life, it was now Goddess spirituality offering an alternative to oppression, exploitation and domination. Now I could answer my friends’ faulty or perhaps premature conclusion with certainty and find her assessment of Goddess Spirituality being lacking untrue, because the Divine Feminine does in fact teach us quite a lot about how to live a peaceful, joyous, empowered and sustainable life. We just have to go beyond Wicca 101 and the Wheel of the Year. Her many images of divinity and mythology teach us much if we are willing to rethink and reinterpret and courageously tell new stories, some of which I’ll gently touch on here and now.
 
So let us look at several brief examples of the Sacred Feminine as deity, metaphor or myth and how we’re given a template for living or advice for values we might embrace.
 
1) I’ve hinted at this previously, but let me punctuate, we find under the broad umbrella of Goddess, many faces across continents and cultures, with no mandate that we worship one name, one face. Instead we see a metaphor for plurality, diversity and inclusion in the loving and life-affirming Sacred Feminine, rather than the jealous, One Way, androcentric and exclusionary
[Comment1] god of patriarchy keen on asking men to sacrifice their sons to prove their loyalty and a holy book filled with violence. Those embracing Goddess might easily see choosing peace, tolerance, gender equality and peoples of all walks of life; gay, straight, people of all skin colors and religions or no religion at all, as being in alignment with Her diversity, resulting in a more inclusive, just, equal, balanced and sustainable world and society.

2) Consider the mythology of the Inuit Goddess Sedna. She is the gatekeeper between humankind and the sea creatures of the regions near icy waters on which indigenous people depend for their livelihood. If mankind becomes too greedy and exploits the creatures of the sea, Sedna cuts humanity off until he takes only what he needs. Greed and excess are taboo as we are all inter-dependent upon each other. As our environmental Goddess, Sedna, teaches us to be wise stewards of Mother Earth and Her creatures. This is a rejection of excess and exploitation in all forms and She calls us to environmentalism and to be Her spokespeople protecting habitats across the globe. We might be called to be at the forefront fighting against fracking, poisoning our water and air, and depleting our natural resources. We would deplore exploitation of any kind, including wage discrimination, worker exploitation or multi-national corporations decimating local economies and indigenous peoples. We certainly would use our vote to support those who fight for the 99% and allies who would protect Mother Earth and Sedna’s creatures.
 
3) Egyptian wall carvings clearly show the Egyptian Goddess Isis bestowed upon pharaohs their right to rule and they were to rule their kingdoms governing under the laws of the Goddess Maat, namely truth, balance, order, and justice. Similarly, we see the Hindu Goddess Kali standing atop her consort, Shiva, whose powers must be activated by Her. Clearly this suggests patriarchy, or rule of the father, resulting in rule by the male gender, has not always been the way of the world, nor would be the way of the world with Goddess restored to center. Neither would we want patriarchy in a skirt as absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even a cursory glimpse here shows a call for female leadership and a respect for women’s power, both of which are sorely lacking in our world as academia, corporate America, religious institutions and politics has less than 20% representation by women in the United States. We must support women who embrace Goddess ideals and support their leadership in these bastions of male control. Isis instructing pharaoh she is granting him the right to rule, but only if he employs the Laws of the Goddess Maat, can be seen as support for civil rights, voter rights, worker and immigrant rights and consumer protection from powers that might mis-use and exploit the individual or the planet. 

4) In the thealogy of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess affirms women’s bodies and sexuality. Priestesses of pharmacology, mid-wives and women hold the power over their own bodies and life and death is in their hands.

Today the patriarchy dictates to women the parameters of beauty and women fall victims to their standards spending millions with plastic surgeons to live up to some impossible ideal. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 13.1 million cosmetic procedures were performed in 2010, up 5% from 2009. Beyond physical beauty, the patriarchy wants to control all aspects of women’s sexuality and reproduction. Known in the United States as Big Pharma, pharmaceutical companies now hold the power over women’s bodies as they encourage women to disconnect from their menses, that monthly inconvenience, that curse. They say, here, take our pill and see your sacred blood magically disappear. Disconnect from one of the very things that empowers you as a woman! In a not-so veiled culture war, one political party has declared war on women by attempting to de-fund Planned Parenthood, thwarting access to contraception, trying to pass laws to make divorces harder to obtain, trying to legalize the murder of abortion providers, and by having miscarriages investigated and abortions abolished. Women’s bodies and lives are the terrain on which this current extremist conservative movement is taking a stand.
 
If we had a feminine face of god at the center of society, or Her ideals affirming life, female authority, sacred sexuality, and leadership, men and their institutions would not control or dictate to women. Equal is equal. Women would understand their sexuality and bodies are sacred and in their own hands and would not be complicit in their own oppression or exploitation. Fortunately many women are catching on to this as they embrace groups like the Red Tent Movement.

5) Goddess thealogy affirms female power. Where Goddess was worshiped, her temples were the centers of wisdom, culture, and financial power and were often presided over by women. The Unitarian Universalist Women’s Cakes for the Queen of Heaven curriculum, as well as researchers such as Merlin Stone and Heide Goettner-Abendroth, in her book, Societies of Peace: Matriarchies Past, Present and Future point to matrilineal, matrifocal or matriarchal societies where Goddess was venerated and maternal values practiced, women and children were protected and had a spot at the center of the culture, reaping the benefit of that positioning at the center. Not only must we restore women’s position in society to that of equal partnership with men but we must once again turn to the attributes of the Feminine, such as caring, sharing, nurturing, negotiation, collaboration, solidarity, partnership and peace - all of which have been marginalized or demonized under patriarchy - and embrace these values so that quality of life is restored for the most of us.
 
In conclusion, I’ve touched briefly on but a few ideas showing how Sacred Feminine herstory, metaphor and mythology might be reclaimed and reinterpreted to provide a roadmap toward a more sustainable future. We have in the feminine images of divinity deities, archetypes and ideals to show us the way. It is up to us if we want to move away from or temper the “authoritarian father” idealogy that shapes our religions and culture and instead heed the advice of the Great She and her Sacred Feminine liberation thealogy as our role model.


-Rev. Dr. Karen Tate  

A 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.
 
Available late March - pre-order here.
 

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