Is Goddess Religion Still Pagan?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  July 12, 2008 — 13 Comments

In honor of their second anniversary (congrats!), the Goddess-focused group blog Medusa Coils looks at recent trends in feminist spirituality. One of the biggest trends they have noticed? The splitting off of Goddess religion from under the “Pagan” umbrella.

“One of the major trends I’ve noticed is a growing conscious differentiation between Pagan and Goddess, with either Goddess being a distinct path of current Paganism or Goddess being separate from Paganism–as a distinct path of its own. A growing number of people making this distinction identify as Goddessians. Many Goddess folk assert that their path differs greatly from New Age, with which it is sometimes confused.”

So why have some Goddess-worshipers begun to define themselves as entirely separate from the Pagan movement? According to Medusa, the persistence of patriarchy in some Pagan communities, the weakening of feminism, and the growth of independent Goddess Temples all feed into this trend.

“There are now Goddess temples with physical structures in England, the Netherlands, Australia, and the USA. Other groups are operating as Temples, but as yet without specific buildings, in Hungary and other European countries, and in Australia and North America. Many of these Temples are not affiliated with (other?) Pagan paths, but rather gather many participants under a large umbrella, focusing specifically on Goddess worship often with original, creative ritual.”

So is the Goddess movement part of a larger pan-Pagan movement, or an entirely separate entity? Personally, I believe our Goddessian sisters are still part of a larger family of faiths, all sharing similar ancestors and goals. But then I’ve always been a “big-tent” sort of Pagan/Heathen, seeing room at “the table” for Asatruar, Witches, Wiccans, Polytheistic reconstructionists, Druids, Discordians, and the Goddess worshipers/Goddessians. We are separate faiths, with separate beliefs and practices, but ultimately part of a larger religious movement.

I think a problem (though surely not the only problem) with the notion of “Pagan unity” that leads to groups wanting to completely disassociate, is that it assumes that “Paganism” is a sort of ur-religion that, like Voltron, is constructed of lesser parts. Leading some to inaccurately portray religions like Asatru and Wicca as “denominations” of Paganism. When instead we should be seen as a diverse movement that shares some commonalities in practice and community. We are (at best) a coalition, not a unified whole, and any attempt to rally us to a cause or goal should take that into account.

I welcome your opinions and comments here, but head over to Medusa Coils and comment there as well. Be sure to wish them a happy anniversary!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • Corwin of Amber

    Fine, but then why do you still count all Pagan groups together for statistics? To show that they are “the fastest growing religion” in the US? Simply accept that all these paths are different religions and count them separately. The “Pagan” or “Neopagan” terms are empty labels that want to unify different religions under a single umbrella, as much as “Abrahamic” tries to unite Christianity, Judaism, and Islam together (with similar -lack of- real results).

  • Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “Fine, but then why do you still count all Pagan groups together for statistics?”Well, “I” don’t lump them together for statistics. Statisticians do. Including the Pew Forum. Personally, I would LOVE to have in-depth (and accurate) statistical breakdowns of individual Pagan/Heathen faiths. But then I’m kinda weird that way. Further, I think there several good arguments for “counting us together” so long as it is made clear that “Paganism” isn’t the religion we all belong to, but a classification for several diverse religions that share some important commonalities.

  • Anonymous

    1) “Paganism” is an awkward, inaccurate, unwieldy and historically unpleasant term to serve as the umbrella for our broader phenomenon.2) Looks like we’re stuck with it.Jordan

  • Robin Edgar

    So is Mariolatry considered to be a form of Goddess worship? ;-)

  • Bo

    ‘Goddessians’ is an achingly ugly word!

  • Anonymous

    I must disagree with Jordan. The word “Paganism” is less awkward (one less syllable) than the word “Christianity.” As for being inaccurate, unwieldy and historically unpleasant, the original Latin term simply meant “villager” or a rural resident, like “heathen,” now worn like a badge of honor by followers of Asatru. The rural people were harder to assimilate into the new religion. This led to the word’s shift in meaning in Medieval Latin to mean “followers of false gods.So historically speaking, anyone who is not a Christian can be described as “pagan.” For my part, I am not embarrassed to call myself a pagan. But since this is just a label, if goddess followers don’t want to be labelled “pagan,” we should respect their wishes. Personally, I am working toward the day when we don’t need labels at all & we all respect each other’s beliefs. Blessed be….Olytanis

  • Jordan Stratford+

    the original Latin term simply meant “villager” or a rural residentUnfortunately the etymology is not so polite. It is first recorded as a derogatory term by the Roman army referring not just to “villagers” but the unbathed illiterate masses beyond the pale, deliberately implying what we would later call “rednecks” or “hicks”. So, no, it is not and never has been an appropriate term for non-Christian.Regardless, with the codification of the field of “Pagan” Studies, we’re stuck with the thing. And sure, I’ll get over it, but we should still be cautious of historical revisionism.

  • Robin Edgar

    “So, no, it is not and never has been an appropriate term for non-Christian.”Well Christians, to say nothing of Muslims, seemed to think that “pagan” was quite an appropriate term and used it quite liberally. ;-)

  • Glenys Livingstone

    I would hope that what Pagans may share in common is “dwelling in country” meaning that Pagans in general know where they are – the “country” these days being in the Cosmos, related to Earth, Sun and Moon. We don’t have to keep going back to what “country” meant to to snobs in the middle ages. We may have our own renewed understandings of what is meant by “country”. Australian indigenous people use the term often to refer to their Place – which is always sacred. And the indigenous people of Europe held the Land itself as sacred -the Land itself/Herself was held sacred. we are all indigenous to this Earth and Cosmos, and may hold it as sacred. That is what Pagans may hold in common. And thus, a Pagan knows more clearly WHO they are – essentially: that we are this Place. And note the female metaphor for the Land … no problem really. Some don’t need the word “Goddess” but our culture and language is a problem right now … having been such a patriarchal context for so long in many quarters. And it doesn’t really have to have a gender but many like to acknowledge their Navel origins … “Mother” is more a statement of fact of origins than it is a gender thing.My tuppence worth here … now I am off to Medusa Coils. There is more of my take on this whole thing at my site too: this page happens to be relevant http://pagaian.org/news/sacred-image-july-moonGlenyshttp://pagaian.org

  • Noinden

    Oh FFS,It’s still ok to beat up on the male pagans? Without Gardner, Sanders (Shudder) and Ross, there would be very little in the way of a coherent Pagan, and thus Goddess movement out there. Sure two of the thee I mentioned could be called ‘dirty old men”, but they also were most certainly not Patriarchalistic and led the Pagan movement (yes including the Goddess sub set) down the path it’s now been on for about 50 years.If they don’t want to identify with Neopagans, bully for them, but I see more anti male attitude (Matriarchal miss deeds?) than anti female. Sure there are male only groups out there (the Radical Fae for example) they like hard core Goddess followers are … rare.My (proto)Grove actually currently only has one male, me, and a three women. But we most certainly make sure that we have both genders covered. I’m only “senior” Druid because well I am the older, more experienced ADF member in the Grove. Does this make us Patriarchal? I recommend these worry worts read Cynthia Eller’s “Myth of the Matriarchal Prehistory” then talk. A women wrote it not a man :)Ok rant aside. It is really up to the path to decide if the identify what they are. Celtic Reconstructionists and Gaelic Traditionalists are not (by their words not definition) Neopagan, same goes for Asatruar (they are Heathens), they by practice however are still in the same religious subset.Good luck to the ladies.

  • Crystal Phoenix

    The word Pagan is used to define anyone who is not xian, jew or muslim. If that is true, then the Goddessians are definately Pagan. The larger issue, I think, is our continuing to unite as a community for the sake of our rights to practice our belief systems from those who would like to see us gone. After all, how many sub-cultures exist under the umbrella of Christianity? Why is it so easy for them to unite but we continue to bicker? If you love God and Goddess then you’re my kin. Blessings to all!

  • Brian Charles

    Several good points made here and i can see that as an umbrella term it is probably one that will stay for a while. I suppose one of my objections is summed up by Crystal Phoenix when she says “God and Goddess” since i do not place Goddess at the centre and do not see any need to have any god there. Goddessian – clumsy as it is – is far more accurate since it does not contain the assumption that a god is part of practice. As for Cynthia Eller, Noinden, I have read her and it is a fairly shoddy piece of scholarship – see Max Dashu http://www.suppressedhistories.net/articles/eller2.html for an indepth dissection.

  • Anonymous

    Very interesting…