Archives For Women’s Spirituality

“I’m a bit uncomfortable, truth be told, with being seen as an expert, because there is always so much more to learn. I see myself as a perpetual student of the goddess.” – Patricia Monaghan

Word quickly emerged yesterday that Patricia Monaghan, a pioneer in the contemporary women’s spirituality movement, and author of books like The Goddess Path: Myths, Invocations, and Rituals and The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit, had passed away. An accomplished poet and academic in addition to her work in the realm of women’s spirituality, her output was hugely influential on a generation of modern Pagans, Goddess worshippers, and Goddess scholars. Her encyclopedias on goddesses and heroines, later collected in one work, were touchstones for many books by a number of authors that followed. Already, many who have worked, taught, and shared scared space with Monaghan have spoken out about her enthusiasm for life, her deep wisdom, and her role as an inspirational figure in their lives.

Patricia Monaghan

Patricia Monaghan

“She was one of the nicest and most down-to-earth people I have had the pleasure of working with. Every email we exchanged, every phone conversation we had, inevitably veered off the topic of her manuscript and into other fun nooks and crannies […] I would say was one of her main characteristics—how enthusiastic she was about everything she loved, and how encouraging she was of every single person on a personal level. I hope to take that spirit forward and be just as connected to and supportive of people in my life.” – Elysia Gallo, Acquisitions Editor, Llewellyn Worldwide

“I’m still stunned by the news of the passing of Patricia Monaghan. She was one of the first authors who I met and she welcomed me with open arms into the Loyal Order of Pagan Authors. She encouraged and mentored me. She gave advice and first hand Irish info to me on the last book I wrote, the Feast of the Morrighan, and generously gave me life strategy and business lessons while we shared a plane ride together, making her seat mate move so I could sit next to her for the flight. I still remember her pulling me into the dark corner of the hotel bar in Denver and saying “I hear your pretty good at tarot… I need a reading” and then we started our time together. Though we didn’t see each other in the flesh that often, she was a huge influence upon me and I miss her.”Christopher Penczak

“May we take comfort in knowing that she lives on in her creative works and the many lives she touched. Brigit guide her passage to the Otherworld. Brigit aid us in our mourning. Brigit Blessings.” – Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

“I have been grieving since I first got the news yesterday around noon that Patricia Monaghan has passed away. For over 30 years, she has been a beloved teacher, mentor, and inspiration to me, both through her books and in person. I had not seen her in years, but we were still in touch. I wish I had told her recently how much her work continues to nourish me. I hope she knows it now.” – Joanna Powell Colbert

In addition to the many accomplishments listed above, Monaghan also taught at Chicago’s DePaul University School for New Learning, co-founded the Black Earth Institute in Wisconsin, and was a noted wine connoisseur. She is survived by her husband, Dr. Michael McDermott. May she rest in the arms of the Goddess, may she return to us again, and may her friends and family be comforted.

I will update this post once official memorial information has been posted.

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.

A few news items I wanted to share with you this Saturday morning. We start off with a glowing profile of the Starwood Festival from Mark Mansfield of Stereo Subversion.

“The best festival I’ve ever participated in, I heard about through word of mouth fifteen years ago. Festival has many different meanings depending on the person. The Hippie might be thinking about Rothbury this year, with it’s heavy Deadhead lineup. The Artist might think of Burning Man where contributory art is everywhere and fires abound. Somewhere in that intersection is Starwood.  Billed as the largest Pagan festival in North America, it is that and so much more … Starwood is a festival unlike any other. It is quite literally what you make it. Some people live for the drumming, while others are intent on attending as many workshops as they can. For some it is a hedonistic party while for others it is a deeply spiritual and transformative experience (and in fact is often both at the same time.) Though not exclusively a music festival, between the concerts, the radio station, and the night’s drumming, the music never stops.”

Dare I wonder if Starwood is becoming, well, hip? Will people start talking about Starwood they way they talk about Burning Man? Maybe, but the musical lineup is still heavily weighted towards the folky-pagan and old hippie, with touches of world music, so I think they have awhile before they’re completely inundated with outsiders.

The wonderful Goddess spirituality blog Medusa Coils points to a recent essay by Starhawk at Alive Mind & Spirit that explores the ever-shrinking mainstream market for “women’s spirituality” book titles, and what that has done to their movement.

“…although you may or may not have noticed, major publishers are no longer terribly interested in books on women’s spirituality.  Why?  Back in the ‘eighties, HarperSanFrancisco published not just me but a whole lot of great books—Carol Christ, Marija Gimbutas, Z. Budapest, Luisah Teish, Vicki Noble if I’m remembering it all right.  They were the books we read, discussed, got excited about and inspired by. Then sometime in the nineties they dropped just about everyone except me—not because the books weren’t selling, but because they weren’t selling enough.  They lost interest in publishing for a strong, steady niche, and only really wanted to publish blockbusters for the mass market … it had a debilitating effect on the movement.  Without the books to inspire women, without new books to continue the discussions and debate, we lost ground, especially with younger women.”

Starhawk also seems to partially blame the Internet and blogging on this shift, though she hasn’t been shy in utilizing the web to fuel her own activist concerns and capitalist endeavours (one wonders how many new readers she gets from her lofty perch at the Newsweek/Washington Post-backed On Faith blog). It is true that book publishers are increasingly focused on “blockbusters”, but it’s also true that there has been a slow shift in the “New Age” book market away from Pagan/occult material and towards the Oprah-style self-empowerment/improvement genre(s). The industry is in flux, and the Pagan and Goddess-focused authors and small publishers will have to think of new ways to reach their audiences (just as the book Starhawk mentions, “Women of Wisdom”, seems to be doing).

In a final note, the First Amendment Center reminds Christians who complain about minority-faith accommodation that they are the one’s who wrote the rules that exclusively benefited them, and who now must deal with the changes that come from a truly religiously pluralistic (and free) society.

“When people complain about the growing list of requests for accommodation in public schools from students and parents from minority faiths, I like to remind them that the majority faith wrote the rules. Founded as Protestant-dominated institutions in the 19th century, public schools never open on Sunday, close for Christmas, and in other ways institutionalize accommodations for the majority faith … Students in the majority faith rarely need religious accommodation in public schools because the majority wrote the rules in the first place – and in many places still writes the rules. For students like Adriel whose faith is unfamiliar to many school officials, it’s often difficult to get a fair hearing. For some school officials, rules are rules – no exceptions. But religious liberty, or freedom of conscience, is our nation’s first freedom. Rather than complaining about all those requests for accommodation, we should be celebrating the genius of the First Amendment, which recognizes religious liberty as an inalienable right for people of all faiths and none. It takes work – and accommodation isn’t always possible. But taking claims of conscience seriously should be at the heart of what it means to be an American.”

Religious freedom means freedom for all religions. The Protestants who wrote the rules may never have envisioned a day when Pagan, or Buddhist, or even Muslim students would one day be a part of their societal fabric, but thanks to our (Enlightenment and Deist-influenced) Constitution we have the ability to thrive in that changed world.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day! interviews gay Catholic author Richard Rodriguez about gay marriage, the “Desert religions”, and the power of women in religious life. What is striking about the piece, from my perspective, is how close he gets to endorsing a shift away from monotheism (or at least male-oriented monotheism) while discussing religion.

“The desert religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are male religions. Their perception is that God is a male god and Allah is a male god. If the male is allowed to hold onto the power of God, then I think we are in terrible shape. I think what’s coming out of Colorado Springs right now, with people like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, is either the last or continuing gasp of a male hierarchy in religion. That’s what’s at stake. And women have a determining role to play. Are they going to go along with this, or are they going to challenge the order?”

While Rodriquez talks about how the traditional monotheisms feel “threatened by the rise of feminism”, he seems unable to look outside the “desert religions” and see that millions of women are indeed challenging the order by leaving it entirely for a variety of faiths that are more egalitarian in outlook. From Wicca and modern Pagan faiths, to various New Age spiritualities and heretical Christian off-shoots, to the post-creedal and post-Christian Unitarian-Universalists, more and more women are simply opting out of a system that they feel oppresses them. Rodriquez seems almost blind to these shifts, and believes that feminism will continue to produce incremental changes within institutional Catholicism and other male-dominated monotheistic religions.

“The Episcopal Church in America is now under the leadership of a woman. Feminism is going to change a great deal. The most radical people in the Roman Catholic Church are women. They’re challenging everything from the priesthood to the male God to what it means to be married. I don’t expect to see gay marriage enter these conservative institutions in my lifetime. But I do see change.”

The problem with these proposed incremental changes is that they aren’t really working as feminists and other activists intended. The Episcopal Church is slowly splintering, the Catholic leadership is maintaining a hard line against feminist reforms, and anti-gay religious coalitions are becoming more strident. In fact, one could argue that not much progress has been made since some initial breakthroughs in the tumultuous 1970s.

I may be biased, but perhaps the best way to challenge the notion of a solitary male-defined deity is to stop participating in the systems that perpetuate it. The dominant monotheisms know how to handle dissenters and heretics, indeed the very history of monotheism is a history of heretical behavior, but empty pews are another matter altogether. If you want to see change, you have to hit them where it hurts, at the collection plate. Reform comes only when the Vatican can’t afford Benedict’s designer clothes. In the meantime, I advise Richard Rodriguez to investigate the wonderful word of polytheism. We have all the women priests, female deities, and gay-friendly rites you could possibly hope for.

In Other News

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  August 28, 2008 — Leave a comment

While Starhawk’s meditation on McCain gets top billing from The Wild Hunt today, it isn’t the only story of interest to our communities happening right now. Here are some links to other stories of note.

New Jersey’s Packet Online looks at the careers of Darlene Prestbo and Hazel Staats-Westover, elders within the women’s spirituality movement, who contribute a chapter to the recently released work “WomanSoul: The Inner Life of Women’s Spirituality”.

“Because of their longtime involvement in women’s spirituality, their professional reputations and friendships, Ms. Prestbo and Ms. Staats-Westover were invited by Carole A. Rayburn, a noted research psychologist who had visited the women’s spirituality groups and been touched by the experience, to contribute a chapter to Womansoul: The Inner Life of Women’s Spirituality. Ms. Rayburn co-authored the book with Lillian Comas-Diaz, also a respected psychologist and educator. The icing on the cake for the two local women was an invitation to the 116th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association in Boston, where they spoke Aug. 15. The book explores and advances the concept of “womansoul” — a gender specific way of embracing spirituality. It discusses the personal and professional impact of spirituality in the lives of women from a variety of ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds — Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Native American and more.”

Prestbo and Staats-Westover also co-founded (in 1987), and help run, a Princeton area women’s spirituality group called the Daughters of Gaia.

If you happen to be institutionalized, you have a right to write letters in “Atlantean” undisturbed, so long as it is integral to your belief system.

“DeSimone v. Bartow is a lawsuit by plaintiff who has been civilly committed to a mental health facility operated in part by the Department of Corrections. A Wisconsin federal district court permitted him to proceed with a claim that his 1st amendment and RLUIPA free exercise rights were violated when he was prohibited from writing in his Atlantean language, a practice plaintiff said was central to his religious belief. Officials said it took too long to translate the writings, and untranslated writings posed security risks, even though they did not impose the same restrictions on others who wrote in different foreign languages.”

I can only assume that letters written in Enochian, Theban, Angelic, and Malachim scripts would be similarly protected. I wonder, is the “Atlantean” alphabet he is using the one invented by Disney?

In a final note, Switzerland has exonerated Europe’s last beheaded witch.

“Swiss officials have granted a pardon to Europe’s last beheaded witch – more than 220 years after she was executed. The parliament of the Swiss canton (state) of Glarus decided unanimously today to exonerate Anna Goeldi as a victim of “judicial murder,” said Josef Schwitter, a government spokesman. Goeldi was executed in 1782 for an alleged case of poisoning.”

Goeldi, who is something of a (in)famous figure in Swiss history, had a museum opened in her honor, and the Swiss government is donating $118,000 towards the creation of a play about her life.

Paula Gunn Allen, an American Indian scholar, poet, and founding figure in the Women’s Spirituality movement, passed away on May 29th after a long illness. She is perhaps best known for her book “The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions”, which argued that women’s central role in Native culture and spirituality was removed or downplayed by European settlers and colonizers. Paula Gunn Allen’s work went on to inspire a new generation of feminist explorations within American Indian communities and beyond.

Paula Gunn Allen

“I have noticed that as soon as you have soldiers the story is called history. Before their arrival it is called myth, folktale, legend, fairy tale, oral poetry, ethnography. After the soldiers arrive, it is called history.”Paula Gunn Allen

Online tributes to Paula Gunn Allen have appeared at Women’s Space, Medusa Coils, and T. Thorn Coyle’s blog.

“I just found out that Paula Gunn Allen died a few days ago, on May 29th. A respected academic and poet, active in anti-nuclear and anti-war movements, she was an important voice in Native American and Lesbian literature and known as one of the founders of the Women’s Spirituality movement. Needless to say, Gunn Allen was important to me during my formation as a feminist, Pagan, queer, poet and writer.”

You can also read tributes from her son Suleiman Allen and others at a specially created guestbook. In addition, an online memorial site for Paula Gunn Allen has also been created. Her family and friends are asking that donations be made towards the establishment of a scholarship in Paula’s name in lieu of flowers. A public memorial is being scheduled for mid-July.

“We have for all too long loathed the shade–shadows, night, the darkness of the Moon. We have found the shadows so repugnant, the darkness so repulsive, that we have given the Goddess only three parts — maiden, mother and crone — thoroughly repressing the fourth, that of mystery…Chaos, the Grandmother of all that is, now comes among us, just as we discover that she is the source of all order and that she is infinitely generative, infinitely fecund. It is as the old ones have told: the name of the Female Principle is “Thought,” and she is more fundamental and varied than time and space….”Paula Gunn Allen, from her introduction to Gossips, Gorgons & Crones, The Fates of the Earth, by Jane Caputi, 1993.

May she rest in the arms of her gods, and be reunited with her ancestors.