Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Tenets of Goddess Spirituality (and a Cautionary Tale) by Pegi Eyers

Painting by Elisabeth Slettnes
The women’s movement has evolved because the crisis of the eternal world is calling for the rise of the Goddess to restore the balance of nature. All the evidence indicates that the feminine archetype is returning. This is perhaps the most important event of the last 5000 years, and its consequences may well have an immense, unimaginable effect on our cultural and ecological evolution. (Jean Houston) With roots in contemporary feminism and closely linked to Pagan and Wiccan practice, Goddess Spirituality has evolved in synthesis with the rise of women’s empowerment, and is one of the fastest growing spiritual traditions today. Goddess worshippers exhibit a highly individualized set of beliefs and practices, yet all agree on the primacy of the Divine Feminine energy which manifests in different forms as individual Goddesses all over the world. With a concise foundational myth, a distinct set of tenets reclaimed from ancient European indigenous identity, and core principles of nature reverence and ecological sustainability, Goddess Spirituality is the most exciting matriarchal movement in history. And, in terms of challenging the structures of monotheistic religions, the most liberating concept to come along in the two thousand years of patriarchal domination so hostile to women, has got to be the concept of a Female Deity!

A surprising and wonderful thing happened over forty years ago in the early days of the feminist revolution. Drawing on obscure texts, books like The First Sex (Elizabeth Gould Davis 1971) and When God Was a Woman (Merlin Stone, 1976) described ancient matriarchal societies that revered the balance of nature and the power of the Divine Feminine in their Goddesses, priestesses and cultural leaders. These peaceful egalitarian societies were eventually overthrown by violent male-dominated warrior-clans that developed into the monotheistic patriarchies we have today, who control the social order by military rule, organized religion and profit-driven economies. Marija Gimbutas’ The Civilization of the Goddess (1991) outlined the archeological record of Old Europe and the history of matriarchal societies, and is considered to be a milestone in feminist scholarly research. This sacred history, or foundational myth, underpins the political and religious tenets of Goddess Spirituality today. 

As an alternative to the patriarchal worldview of Empire that has excluded, alienated and persecuted women for centuries, these new versions of history are incredibly empowering, and women everywhere continue to rediscover and develop the language that speaks to their own experience. New versions of woman-centric mythology and history have been unearthed, and more are coming to light all the time. As many talented scholars have discovered, such as Starhawk and Hilary Valentine’s The Twelve Wild Swans, the values of European indigenous identity (including those of ancient matriarchies) have been kept alive through the centuries in the oral tradition, storytelling, parables, folklore and fairy tales. Building on years of scholarship, there is now a plethora of academic conferences and books being published each year, and Matriarchal Studies (or Goddess Studies) is now considered an official discipline within academia. An interest in the Divine Feminine has also been steadily growing among historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, thealogians, Jungian psychoanalysts, community leaders, environmentalists, holistic practitioners, artists, writers, visionaries, social activists, eco-feminists and cultural creatives everywhere. 

The symbolism of the Goddess is not parallel to the symbolism of God the Father. The Goddess does not rule the world. She IS the world. Manifest in each of us, She can be known internally by every individual, in all of her magnificent diversity.2 (Starhawk) 

Goddess Spirituality continues to grow as more and more women are drawn to an alternative view of the Divine. Believing in both the one Goddess and her diverse manifestations worldwide, practitioners define Her as the “One and the Many.” She is both immanent and transcendent at the same time, and monotheism is avoided by the animist awareness that the different Goddesses evoke similar cosmic principles of universal love, fertility and abundance, and the upholding of balance and truth. By identifying with the Goddess(es) specific to one’s own life experience, the Divine Feminine becomes an individualized path of exploration, inner knowing, self-care and regeneration. Healing modalities for body/mind/spirit, psychic abilities, oracular work, sacred music and dance, dreamwork, a love of the natural world, recovering one’s indigenous knowledge, rituals, ceremonies and creative expression can all be aspects of Goddess Spirituality. Whatever form it takes, Goddess Worship is extremely empowering for all women! By healing our body/mind/spirit and reclaiming our personal sovereignty, we are the first generation in millennia to recover from the patriarchal damage perpetuated on ourselves, our mother’s generation, and our ancestral motherlines. 

Viewing ancient matriarchal carvings, symbols and Paleolithic Goddesses in texts such as Lucy Lippard’s Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory or Marija Gimbutas’ The Living Goddesses for the first time opens the door to an exciting new version of history, a woman-empowered archaeomythology - a feminine view of Deity - and a model of feminine power. The Goddess has been there all along, waiting to embrace us again, and in turn we can embrace Her with all of our body, mind and soul! Those on the Goddess Path see themselves as part of the interconnected web of life, revere the Divine Feminine principle, and speak of the Earth as the body of the Goddess Herself. Spending time in nature, it becomes abundantly clear that the divine presence emanating from, and animating the natural world and indeed, the entire universe, is feminine - abundant, fertile, yin, cyclic, ever-renewing, forgiving, and above all, loving and nurturing. All things are born and nurtured by a mother - this love and nurture is the great cosmic principle of all life. It is so obvious, yet our civilization, based on over two thousand years of patriarchal rule, has tried very hard to conceal this great and beautiful feminine truth. It is time to realign ourselves, men or women, with the Great Mother, to bring the principles of the Divine Feminine back into our lives, to recover what has been lost, and to bring a much-needed balance to the world. For practitioners today, feminist Goddess Spirituality merges spirituality and politics, and makes for a strong involvement in environmental and social justice issues as part of our holistic way of life. 

Core Beliefs and Values of Goddess Spirituality The Goddess movement is not universal, however, there are common beliefs and values:
• The basic tenet of Goddess Spirituality is a reverence, love and respect for all life. This is also the basic tenet of all indigenous knowledge (IK). 

• To hold a reverence for the Goddess and the awareness that the Divine Feminine is the ultimate creative power in the Universe. 
• To hold that the Earth is the Sacred Mother of All, the source of all life and joy.
• To honor Our Blessed Gaia and support the interconnected web of life that sustains us all. • To know that the Goddess manifests in diverse forms worldwide, and to focus on the matriarchal values of respect and nurture in self, culture and the natural world. 

• To realize that the animals, plants, elements and humanity are all kindred spirits, and our common destinies are linked together. 
• To reclaim all that has been defiled, to resacralize our bodies and all beings as part of Earth Community, and to reenchant our cultures and our lives. 
 • To emphasize a personal relationship with the Sacred through prayer, intuition or creative ritual, without intermediaries or dogma. 
 • To support the integration of heart and mind characteristic of a true human being, placing equal value on both the intuitive-magical and intellectual abilities. 
 • To uphold freedom of belief and respect for each individual’s experience of the Sacred. 
• To work for the empowerment of women worldwide, and to contribute to the work of freeing all beings and the Earth Mother from the dominance of a patriarchal system. 

Goddess Spirituality offers us the components of a complete indigenous knowledge system that we can align with, to recover the wise beliefs and practices that our ancestors were forced to give up so long ago. The tenets of Goddess Spirituality hold all life as sacred, connect us to the Earth, give us a holistic view of Earth Community, and affirm the divine principle of “as above so below”, which is the feminine macrocosm and microcosm within ourselves. Embracing and embodying the Goddess and working with the Divine Feminine energies allows women to reclaim their feminine power and realize the sacredness of their own bodies, minds, voices and spirits. The resurgence of the Goddess in our time can give us the wisdom, strength, courage and joy that is deeply needed to revitalize ourselves, our communities and the world. 

The study of ancient matriarchal cultures that honoured the primal power of the feminine reminds us of the eternal rhythms of nature and all life. Honouring the Goddess is a wisdom path of reverence for the earth, sacredness and interconnected-ness. As a species we do not stand apart from nature. Listen to the echoes of the Ancestors. The tradition we keep alive is wholeness.3 

Supporting the empowerment of all women as the resurgence of the Divine Feminine in today’s society, is a true revolution for all humanity. Women everywhere are rediscovering their love for Mother Earth and the feminine aspect, the Creatrix, that is the cosmic principle behind all life. The fading of the patriarchy that is happening, and the rebalancing of the feminine and masculine are two aspects of the same reality, reconnecting all people with the
nurture and care that defines our re-indigenized relationship to Earth Community. The renewed interest in strong historical feminine deities, philosophers, intellectuals and role models in recent times has been amazing, and the rise of women in leadership roles worldwide is an integral part of the paradigm shift from patriarchal Empire to sustainable egalitarian societies. The challenge for women coming into their power is to bring the feminine values of nurture and care to governance, instead of internalizing the patriarchy or assuming the agendas of Empire. If matriarchal cultures were reinstated with their tribal philosophies of interconnectedness and sacred knowing today, all people would benefit in wondrous ways. The evolution of our species may depend on the shift toward the feminine values of balance, reciprocity, equity, grassroots democracy, negotiation, nonviolence, peacemaking, unconditional love, intuition and nature connection.

On a cautionary note, with roots in early feminism, eco-feminism, Neo-Pagan and Wicca practice, Goddess Spirituality has also flourished within the canon of New Age Capitalism, and the many texts and tools in this corner of the self-help marketplace also reflect a pervasive commodification and appropriation of indigenous knowledge (IK) to create consumer products. The modern Goddess Spirituality movement encourages women to work with any Goddess deity, Goddess metaphor or Goddess energy from any cultural tradition they choose, and rituals, petitions and pathworking can remove the deity from the originating culture or epistemology in newly-created narratives. By taking the particular Goddess out of context, and revising or fabricating the traditions and IK of the “other” for the monetary gain of selling books or conducting workshops, Goddessians are dominating the knowledge of specific cultures and practising cultural appropriation. As members of the privileged white society, the same ethical considerations apply to all spiritual seekers, who may simply be unaware that they are furthering the racist and destructive practices of colonialism. It may be best to resonate with the Goddesses of your own ethnicity, or if you must reference the Goddesses of Turtle Island First Nations or other indigenous communities, be sure to cite genuine mythologies from authentic indigenous scholars and storytellers themselves, and be discerning that these narratives are not Neo-Pagan or New Age versions that have been absorbed, whitewashed, “painted-up” and reflected back (which can happen). For Goddess Studies scholars who are aligned with the principles of decolonization, engaged with deconstructing whiteness, and in the process of reclaiming their own ethnoautobiography, the work they present to the feminist or Goddess Spirituality public could easily be prefaced with “you really need to focus on honoring the Goddesses of your own ancestral tradition(s).” 

-Pegi Eyers, Why Goddess Feminism, Activism and Spirituality

1. Jean Houston, cited in Women of Wisdom: Empowering the Dreams and Spirit of Women, edited by Kris Steinnes, Wise Woman Publishing, 2008.
2. Starhawk, The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, HarperCollins, 1999.
3. Women & Spirituality: Goddess Remembered, Dir. Donna Read, Studio D, National Film Board of Canada

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