Several years ago Tim Ward, a “spiritual journalist” and author of three books on Buddhism, had an epiphany. A moment of embrace from the goddess Kali in India that eventually prompted an epic road-trip in search of The Goddess at her holy sites throughout Europe and the Middle-East, and an even deeper exploration of his own wants, fears, and motivations concerning women. The resulting book, published in 2006, was “Savage Breast: One Man’s Search for The Goddess”. An unflinching portrait of the spiritual void within men, and in Western society, that has come in since the ascendancy of patriarchal monotheism. I recently had the opportunity to interview Tim about his book, his relationship with the Goddess, Buddhism, and how Pagans and Goddess worshipers have received his work.
How important is it in your mind that men discover the Goddess? It was certainly a hard road for you, a journey that brought a lot of dark emotions to the surface.
Discovering the Goddess was a great source of healing for me. I think it could help many men. I found, in the course of writing Savage Breast, that I had a whole realm of unconscious reactions towards women I was completely unaware of. As a result I sabotaged relationships, acting by turns weak and vicious towards the women I loved. Becoming aware of the archetypes of the Goddess, I began to see the patterns in my behavior. Recognizing the source, I could begin to deal with these reactions consciously – and that opened the door to tremendous healing. On a deeper level, reconnecting with the Goddess as a spiritual reality is where the healing really happened. As Teresa, the woman who went through this whole experience with me put it, it helped me become the man I truly was.
Was it difficult to get a book about a man searching for the Goddess published? Did you find obstacles due to preconceived notions about who should be writing a “Goddess book”?
Yes, the book was rejected by many publishers before O Books recognized it for the work of staggering genius that it is. Strangely, many prospective publishers liked the idea of a male perspective on the Goddess, but they didn’t like the fact I had included my personal experiences. To me, the personal transformation was the heart of the story.
Now that it has been some time since you wrote the book, is the Goddess a daily part of your life and practice? Have you changed further since the book was published?
I’ve become more and more aware of how patriarchy is woven into the fabric of our society, how much we take the dominance of men and the subjugation of women for granted. Much of it is unconscious. Just look at the irrational hatred many feel towards Hillary Clinton. I’m now committed to ending patriarchy, in my own life and relationships with all women, and in society. For example, I’ve begun holding circle discussions with men and women on what we can do to make this change. That for me is a practical expression of my beliefs. (anyone who would like to have me hold one in your community, please write to the address below)
Would you call yourself a “Goddess worshiper” now? If so, in what sense? How do you perceive the divine feminine?
Yes, I worship the Goddess. How? By cultivating gratitude for the many blessing in my life. By seeing my work, relationships and enjoyment of life’s pleasures as an offering to Her. It’s Recognizing every moment of every day that the world I live in is her body, and that we are all her children. Knowing that even death is safe, for it is a return to her womb. not really very religious, but it permeates everything I do.
Since your “conversion” (awakening?), have you interacted much with men in the Pagan community?
Some men – Pagan and non-pagan – totally get this book. This includes a retired marine corps engineer I met a year ago who knew nothing about “the Goddess” as a faith. He just knew it in his life and his 30 year marriage to his wife. Often the men who impress me are older, with partners they have loved for many years.
Then there are the many men I have met within the Pagan community who worship the Goddess, but they’ve not yet delved into the realm of their own unconscious where animosity to the feminine resides. Believe me, the women in the Pagan community are well aware of this animosity. The advantage Pagan men have is they see the door, and there are usually women around them ready to help them open it. Truth is, it takes courage to step into the presence of the sacred feminine. Hekate and Kali are both powerful forces for this kind of transformative work, which indeed places a man right in her cauldron!
Have you had much feedback from female Goddess worshipers, and women in general, about the book? Was it supportive? Challenging?
Overwhelmingly supportive. I was expecting some women to challenge me as a man treading on sacred feminine space. But no, women are overwhelmingly saying to me “It’s about time a man paid attention to this!” I’ve been deeply touched by women Goddess worshipers who have taken some hope from my story – that it is possible for a man to heal. There is such strong recognition by aware, conscious women that men in general have not yet taken on this task – that we have work to do if we are to embrace women as genuine equals and co-create humanity’s future together.
Do you feel that your attitudes concerning women have continued to improve since the journey outlined in your book? Does your wife think you have continued to change?
Yes – and I continue to see how thick are the male blinders that I still wear. I still find it hard to really listen to what my wife (and business partner) Teresa has to say. Sometimes I will come up with a brilliant idea, and tell it to her, only to see the dismay on her face as she reminds me she is the one who told the idea to me a month ago! Then I vaguely remember…So, yeah, still a work in progress. Another area I am working on is overcoming this weird tendency of men to treat women over 40 as invisible. If we men aren’t attracted to a women, of if she somehow does not command our attention, we tend to not notice them. It sounds terrible to say it. In a large part it is because our ideas of beauty have been contaminated by the porn and fashion industry which insists that only young women are worth noticing.
For all that, Teresa would say the biggest change is that I have grown really comfortable in my own skin. this includes being a much better arguer. Because we have thrashed through so many unconscious issues, now when we argue, we fight about the issue at hand, not some underlying unconscious issue. That’s makes it nice and clean, no residue, no resentment. I never thought I would have a relationship so solid, where I really trusted the other 100%. She says the same about me.
You are also deeply involved in Buddhist practice, how do these two threads in your life interact?
I find the Buddhist ideas of no-self, and of reality as a field of interconnected experience fits well with my sense of the Goddess’ world. And the compassion and care for all beings that arises from Buddhist insight is exactly the sense I get from seeing the world and all beings as the Goddess’s living body. The Chinese have a female Bodhisattva, Kwan Yin, who has 100,000 eyes with which see sees the world’s suffering and 100,000 hands with which she moves to heal that suffering. For me this is the perfect blend of Buddhism and the Goddess.
That said, many branches of Buddhism and Buddhist teaching are woefully sexist – for example in Thailand it is thought that a woman needs to first be reborn as a man in order to attain enlightenment. Even Tibe
tan Buddhism, which has nuns and women teachers, can be notoriously sexist in terms of the power roles in Tibetan politics. Two Tibetan scholars, a pair of sisters who are friends of mine, have done their Ph D theses on this topic. It’s opened my eyes, as a big fan of Tibet, to the reality of pervasive sexism within these spiritual communities.
I am hopeful however that Buddhism in the west will become more egalitarian as issues of sexism and gender are being dealt with by intelligent and passionate men and women who dare to question the historical practices of the Sangha.
Do you think we are collectively moving beyond patriarchy? Are you hopeful about a widespread return to The Goddess?
Yes, we are moving beyond patriarchy. The big external changes have taken place in the west – unthinkable 150 years ago. What’s different? Women can go to university. Women can own property. Women can vote, Women can get a divorce. Women can hold public office. Women can choose to get an abortion. It’s hard to imagine this was not the case in the 19th century. What remains is the tough stuff – the internal patriarchy, the old-boy networks of male privilege. The sanctioned abuse and degradation of women. The Internet, such a potent force for transformation, has exploded with pornography which I find deeply distressing. So many men still want the experience of woman as sex object – without having to deal with the whole rest of the woman as a real human being. So, much work still to do, for all of us.
The Environmental movement, the Gaia hypothesis, and all ways of engaging with the earth as a being in whom we live — these all dovetail with the return of the Goddess. I think She gives us a metaphor of our world that brings us back to our senses. This could be transformative on a massive scale, and for the first time in many thousands of years it could give us a spiritual connection with all of life that heals the split caused by monotheism. The cult of the sky god told us we are not of “the world.” The Goddess says, “the world is my body…you are home right here, right now, in my arms”
Do you think you’ll write any further books about the Goddess or related topics, or do you feel you have said what you needed to say?
Yes, I am starting work on a Da Vinci Code style thriller set at the time of the Council of Ephesus, 431 AD. This was a time when the pagan temples were being outlawed and destroyed. This church council declared Mary the “Mother of God” – and it opened the door for the worship of the sacred feminine within the newly established power of the official church. I want to explore this crucial and violent transition. Add in a dangerous love affair between a bishop and a priestess and a chase scene across the aqueducts of Ephesus, and I hope it will make a good movie!
Afterward: In addition to Tim Ward’s forthcoming fiction book, he has also contributed an essay on the god Dionysos for a recent collection of devotional writings entitled: “Written in Wine – contemporary experiences of Dionysos”. For anyone wanting to find out more about “Savage Breast”, you can write to Tim Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org.