Archives For The Goddess Movement

“For people raised and programmed on the patriarchal religions of today, religions that affect even the most secular aspects of our society, perhaps there remains a lingering, almost innate memory of sacred shrines and temples tended by priestesses who served in the religion of the original supreme deity. In the beginning, people prayed to the Creatress of Life, the Mistress of Heaven. At the very dawn of religion, God was a woman. Do you remember?” – Merlin Stone, “When God Was A Woman”

Word has come to us that sculptor and art historian Merlin Stone passed away this week after a prolonged illness. Stone is perhaps best know for her groundbreaking 1976 book “When God Was A Woman”, a work that was very influential on feminist theology, and, as the book’s blurb puts it, “made the concept of a female deity accessible.”

Merlin Stone

Merlin Stone

“The Goddess is not just the female version of God. She represents a different concept.” – Merlin Stone, Time Magazine, 1991

While Stone and other Goddess-oriented writers of her time eventually came under increased scrutiny for some of their historical assertions, her work became a touchstone that paved the way for many to embrace Goddess religion, modern Paganism, or to simply broaden their own conceptions of deity.

“I think we should have a huge global memorial to Merlin. She was the first one who gave us back our historical heritage as women. Her research was diligent, “When God was a Woman” changed my life.” – Zsuzsanna Budapest

“As a Woman of the Goddess, and Devotee of Higher Learning, Merlin Stone’s work sparked a Depth of Integrity that spoke volumes of a Rich, untapped goldmine of Herstorical perspectives within Conventional University environments early on in my studies; her work marked a trail-blazing path toward a place where intellect and mysticism found a comfortable home within the *Thea* logical Realms of Scholarly imagination.”Rosmarinus Stehlik

“It was a revelation to me, the idea that the Bible still contained the remnants of the goddess. I felt that cool water was rushing over me. For the first time in my life, I felt that there was an open door for me to approach a “god” who looked like me, whose accessibility wasn’t confined to the men in the congregation. […] Thanks, Merlin Stone, for breaking me out of my American Christian blinders.”Anonymous respondent, The Daily Dish, December, 2010

My condolences go out to Merlin Stone’s friends and family, may she rest in the arms of the Goddess.

Is modern goddess religion misandrist? Has it, in fact, “encouraged widespread misandry in popular culture”? That seems to be the contention of two Canadian religious studies scholars, Paul Nathanson and Katherine K. Young, who have released a new book: “Sanctifying Misandry: Goddess Ideology and the Fall of Man”.

“In “Sanctifying Misandry”, Katherine Young and Paul Nathanson challenge an influential version of modern goddess religion, one that undermines sexual equality and promotes hatred in the form of misandry – the sexist counterpart of misogyny. To set the stage, the authors discuss two massively popular books – Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” and Riane Eisler’s “The Chalice and the Blade” – both of which rely on a feminist conspiracy theory of history. They then show how some goddess feminists and their academic supporters have turned what Christians know as the Fall of Man into the fall of men. In the beginning, according to three ‘documentary’ films, our ancestors lived in an egalitarian paradise under the aegis of a benevolent great goddess. But men either rebelled or invaded, replacing the goddess with gods and establishing patriarchies that have oppressed women ever since. In the end, however, women will restore the goddess and therefore paradise as well. The book concludes with several case studies of modern goddess religion and its effects on mainstream religion. “Young and Nathanson” show that we can move beyond not only both gynocentrism and androcentrism but also both misandry and misogyny.”

It seems pretty clear that the documentary  films they are referring to are Donna Read’s Women and Spirituality series, which included “Goddess Remembered”, “The Burning Times”, and “Full Circle”, and starred many Pagan, goddess-religion, and women’s spirituality luminaries like Starhawk, Merlin Stone, and Luisah Teish.

But do the early claims of the women’s spirituality movement really create a culture of misandry? Of man-hating? Leading to the supposedly misandrist pop-culture heavyweight that is “The Da Vinci Code”? Several scholars have criticized Nathanson and Young’s past work for spotty methodology, of misusing feminist theory, of only picking the data that fits their argument in pursuit of an agenda.

“Spreading Misandry’s stated goal to make recognizable the extent of misandry in popular culture is lost in its failure to connect their assumptions to sociological theory. The methodology that selectively examines some examples of popular culture and not others and then asks us to accept their interpretation as relevant and not others severely limits the potential of the research findings. Nathanson and Young promote sexism and gender polarization in their oppositional approach to gender. Most importantly, the work is totally divorced from the important connection of culture with structure in that they did not demonstrate a link between misandry in popular culture and the broader societal structures that negatively impact men. Instead of criticizing feminist theories, the authors would be advised to apply many of the findings and concepts of feminist researchers examining gender to an analysis of masculinity. Such would be a more constructive approach to examining gender-both masculinity and femininity. I am not convinced that misandry is a pervasive cultural pattern. Consequently I do not recommend this book for academic or popular consumption.”

What’s the result of bad or biased scholarship? Who cares if their methodology is spotty or agenda-driven? First, it can empower people like Canadian newspaper columnist Barbara Kay to write things like this.

“…it’s all nonsense: ideology gussied up as religious myth. Their methodical exposure of Goddess spirituality’s perversion of Christian tropes reveals the misandric obsession at its core. Taking Daly’s scapegoating revisionism as a reliable clue, they site Goddess spirituality — and for other persuasive reasons feminism in general — under the rubric of conspiracy theorism.”

As an extra-classy note, Kay’s anti-goddess hate-fest is married to a pseudo-obituary of Mary Daly. I realize that Daly had said and advocated many problematic (even hateful) things during her life, but spitting on the dead is usually frowned on in civil society. You can expect that Kay’s shot across the bow will soon become a full-blown salvo from people like Ross Douthat, Rod Dreher, and the loon-bats at World Net Daily, all of them referencing “Sanctifying Misandry” as proof of their beliefs regarding goddess-religion and feminism.

Regarding accusations of  women’s spirituality’s own spotty scholarship in the past, those issues have been almost fully absorbed and corrected within modern Paganism (not to mention modern feminism). With today’s scholarship having a clear-eyed assessment of where history/herstory got more poetic than factual.

As I said the last time this issue came up, when outdated criticisms of bad history were lobbed in our general direction:

“Wiccan-fabricated libels? Oh! You mean the “Burning Times”, right? The old “nine million witches” killed thing. Funny thing about that, it wasn’t a libel fabricated by Wiccans, it was an estimate by an 18th century German scholar which was then propogated (in part) by a 20th century British anthropologist. While some debunking of that estimate already existed in academic circles, it was hardly common reading at the time it was picked up by feminists and early Wiccans (the 1960s and 1970s). In the last twenty years, as the number was successfully reevaluated, modern Paganism has mostly dropped that meme, and those who don’t are often criticiszed within the modern Pagan community. Even Charlotte Allen, who wrote the critical piece from 2001 that Douthat links to, admits that Wiccans and Pagans have mostly moved on from “The Burning Times”.”

To link filmmaker Donna Read to author Dan Brown to claims of a man-hating institutional misandry really seems absurd. Especially when you see that misogyny and patriarchy are alive and well in Western culture, and ever-dominant around the world. To claim that goddess-religion has taken over pop-culture on a structural level, encouraging misandry in our day-to-day lives, is to turn a blind eye to the vast swathes of pop-culture that revel in the masculine, in the sexist, and ultimately in abuse. The whole thing smells like a hit-piece – partisan anti-feminist tome that draws women’s spirituality into the mix in order to cast the “villain” (feminism) as some sort of destabilizing counter-faith (shades of anti-environmental rhetoric). It, like other books of this nature, have to over-state and “pump up” the influence and pervasiveness of their enemy to justify the attack.

Top Story: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Italy is holding a special two-day conference with the theme of “God today: with Him or without Him, that changes everything”. Normally I’m not overly interested in the day-to-day goings on of the Vatican, but a couple quotes reveal, I believe, the under-riding fear behind Benedict XVI’s ongoing smears of both classical and modern forms of Paganism. In short, they believe secularism will hasten the growth of modern Paganism(s).

“Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to CEI President Card Angelo Bagnasco for the occasion. In it, the Holy Father said, … “When God disappears from man’s horizon, humanity loses its sense of direction and could take steps towards its destruction.” … In his opening address, Cardinal Bagnasco said that the question of God is linked to that of truth, which “separates man from animals and machine.” For the cardinal, the more the ‘question of God’ is “marginalised and psychologically removed” from culture, the more it “reappears in disguise” and takes the form of today’s interest in the paranormal, the occult, and esoteric religiosity in which reason “is defeated”.”

The process they describe is known to scholars as “re-enchantment”, and far from being antithetical to reason, some see the current trend as one that embraces “secular rationalism” alongside  new-found “esoteric religiosity”.

“To Pagans, the “spiritual but not religious”, the scores of “no religion” agnostics who believe in God, and the many other groupings taking part in the West’s re-enchantment, it isn’t a choice of Dawkins or Pope Benedict. Instead, it is melding of the best aspects of rational and secular progress with the immanent and transcendent spiritual experiences provided by various religions and philosophies. While the old binary view of religion and rationalism continues to duke it out, Pagans are having their (secular re-enchantment) cake and eating it too.”

The Catholic fear, I believe, isn’t (primarily) of the death of reason, but of the birth of competition. Of a post-Christian Christianity that doesn’t mind dabbling in the supernatural now and then, of a coalition of non-Christian faiths who won’t sit quietly and allow the Vatican to continue “asserting the reasonableness of the Gospel” to the exclusion of any other point of view. Of a world that has no problem being religious and living in an age secular rationalism.

In Other News: Author and Pagan scholar Michael York, who attended and presented at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne (check out my audio interview with him), has added his two cents to the wide-ranging post-Parliament discussion over identity and terminology in Wednesday’s post.

“The Indigenous Peoples issued a Statement to the World in which the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493 and the Doctrine of Christian Discovery were exposed for the evils that they were. Angie Buchanan’s argument is that we pagans who follow a European tradition are examples of an earlier and more complete eradication that the indigenous peoples of today are themselves facing. We are allies and not enemies. _Some_ were sympathetic to this reasoning; others less so. Andras’ classification of paganism into Neo-pagan, Reconstructionists and Indigenous I have trouble with – especially when he described the second as intellectual reconstructions as opposed to revivals of indigenous survivals. For me, Neo-pagan includes Wicca as well as much contemporary Druidry and comprises a specific alignment of elements and directions as well as the eight festival calendar. Reco-paganism is ethnic reconstructions _and_ revivals. Geo-pagan is something else that is more vernacular and often less self-conscious.”

I urge you to read the full comment, his follow-up statement, and the exchange between him and Celtic Reconstructionist Erynn Laurie (among others) for some thoughtful expansion on the hot-button issues brought up in the main post. I’d also like to recognize and thank all my commenters for their thoughtful, challenging and respectful discussion on these issues. I like to think that this blog’s reader-commenters present a unique cross-section of the diverse theological, political, and social backgrounds, to be found under modern Paganism’s wide umbrella. As a result of this we often generate more light than heat on controversial subject matters. So thank you.

An extremist Russian pagan group is being blamed for an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir.

“A suspect detained as part of the authorities’ investigation into an explosion inside an Orthodox church in Vladimir is believed to be a member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths, a spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry’s department for the fight against extremism told Interfax on Friday. An explosion occurred at the Sts Cyril and Methodius Church on the premises of the Vladimir State University on December 6, the spokesman said. A pamphlet that was written on behalf of the White Storm group and contained remarks “aimed at inciting ethnic and religious hatred” was found inside the church, he said. “A 28-year-old resident of Vladimir was detained for his suspected role in the crime. The information available to us suggests that he is an active member of a pagan group that is in conflict with traditional faiths,” the spokesman said.”

Luckily, no one was hurt in the explosion. There have been serious ongoing tensions between modern Russian Pagan groups (both extremist and otherwise), and the state-approved Russian Orthodox Church. Extremist Pagans groups have been listed as suspects in the recent murder of an Orthodox priest, and one group was recently tried and convicted for the murder and harassment of non-Slavic immigrants. The various forms of Paganism in Russia are a complex matter for outsiders to grasp, especially when press coverage focuses almost solely on violent and racist gangs instead of the broader Pagan impulse in the country. I await a serious expose’ on this issue, one that separates the peaceful productive groups from the thuggish gangs who terrorize Orthodox priests and immigrants. Perhaps some Russian Pagans or Russian Pagan ex-pats can shed some light on the matter?

Lahaina News reports on a Goddess Movement conference coming to West Maui in January, organized by Dr. Apela Colorado, founder of the Worldwide Indigenous Science Network, and featuring Kathy Jones and Lydia Ruyle.

“Organizing gatherings is old hat to Colorado. “I’ve done hundreds of them. This is the first one I’ve done about the theme of the goddess, with the central focus on the goddess. Normally, I’m doing gatherings that pertain to indigenous wisdom and spirituality and bringing it together with western science,” she said. “What’s the same about this is that it’s bringing out the ancient ways of understanding life,” she added. Colorado reasoned why the conference is being held on the West Side. “All of West Maui is dedicated to the feminine powers of life. It’s all about the waters, the fresh waters. In the West Maui Mountains up there, it has a big lizard (mo‘o) in the landscape that’s at the headwaters of Kauaula, the red rain. The red water is an allusion to the menses, the blood flow of giving birth,” she explained.”

Oh, and Starhawk is also attending, though that strangely wasn’t mentioned in the article. I do find it somewhat curious that a Goddess Conference held in West Maui doesn’t feature any native Hawaiians on the speakers list (that I can ascertain, there are several names I don’t recognize), an oversight perhaps? Is there some sort of social/political tension that I’m not clued in on? Perhaps some of my Hawaiian readers can fill me in.

In a final note, I normally don’t plug individual business on my blog, but I think this is a good cause. Witchy Moon is teaming up with Operation Circle Care to make it super-easy to send a Pagan solider a care package this holiday season.

“WitchyMoon Magickal Pagan Superstore today announced that is supporting Circle Sanctuary’s “Operation Circle Care” program to collect Yule gifts for Pagan soldiers stationed overseas. As part of this sponsorship, WitchyMoon will be selling care packages on its web site, which can be sent to Pagan service members abroad. WitchyMoon will be offering a 25% discount on all care package items. “Through this Yule program, we are sending a very powerful message that we care about our Pagan troops, which are working hard to defend America,” says Lady Falcona, proprietor of Witchy Moon”

You can find out more about Operation Circle Care’s care package program, here. Perhaps Witchy Moon’s generosity of spirit will inspire other Pagan retailers to offer similar deals. If you have a business that is working with Operation Circle Care, please drop a line in the comments and let my readers know.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!