Feminist Spirituality & Goddess Religion: Then & Now in The United States Thousands of years ago, the Goddess was viewed as an autonomous entity worthy of respect from men and women alike. Because of societal changes caused by Eastern influence, a patriarchial system conquered all aspects of life including religion.
“Furthermore, most feminists interested in goddesses are women who strongly reject western patriarchal theology”(Culpepper 51). Thus, there was this very strong feminist idea of women being the prime in the early part of the 17th and the 18th century. Today, the loss of a strong female presence in Judeo-Christian beliefs has prompted believers to look to other sources that celebrate the role of women.
Men and women have increasingly embraced goddess religion and feminist spirituality as an alternative to the patriarchy found in traditional biblical religion of the past and the present. In this paper, I would like to discuss this whole issue of the uprising of women spirituality in the United States and also the formation of these so called Goddess Religions, and the ways in which these religions are changing the face of American societal believes. My argument will be supporting the central theme of the movie Women & Spirituality: A Full Circle’, the one that was featured in the lecture. I would like to discuss the main ideas on which this religion is based, the way in which it has come back a full circle and also its adjusting to this modern American society full of many other religions having different ideologies.Within a few thousand years the first recognizable human society developed worship of the Great Goddess’ or Great Mother’.
For these people, deity was female. The importance of fertility in crops, domesticated animals, wild animals and in the tribe itself was of paramount importance to their survival. Thus, the Female life-giving principle was considered divine and an enigma. This culture lasted for tens of thousands of years, generally living in peace. Males and females were treated equally. Their society was matrilineal–children took their mothers’ names, but not a matriarchy (Christ 58-59).
Life and time was experienced as a repetitive cycle, not linearly as is accepted today. Even the movie we saw in the lecture reflected this basic idea of women being the soul of every living thing on this earth and the gist of life was women. However, Easterners soon brought modern civilization to this culture, including war, belief in male Gods, exploitation of nature, and knowledge of the male role in procreation. Some of these so called religions would be Christianity including the Roman Catholic Church, Protestants, European Religions and also Judaism who thought of as god being male i.e. Jesus. Goddess worship was gradually combined with worship of male Gods to produce a variety of Pagan religions, thus losing some of its singular focus on the female as a deity.
Goddess Worship during the Christian era was molded by more dominant outside forces. As Judaism, Christianity & eventually Islam evolved, the Pagan religions were suppressed and the female principle was gradually driven out of religion. Consequently women were reduced to a level inferior to men. The God, King, Priest & Father replaced the Goddess, Queen, Priestess & Mother (Miles 24). A woman’s testimony was not considered significant in courts, women were not allowed to speak in churches, and positions of authority in the church were (almost without exception) limited to men. A feminine presence was added to Christianity when the Virgin Mary was named Theotokos (Mother of God).
However, her role was heavily restricted and included none of the fertility components present in Pagan religions. A low point in the life of women was reached during the Renaissance, when hundreds of thousands of suspected female witches were exterminated being burned and hanged. At the turn of the century, scholars began writing about a “Mother Goddess”. By the 1950s, Gerald Gardner claimed initiation into a coven of English witches in England.
He began publicizing this “Old Religion” of Wicca. Gardnerian Witchcraft recognized a Goddess of Earth-Moon-Sea as well as the Horned-hunt-sun God (Corbett, 290). Meanwhile, women in the US and elsewhere were beginning the feminist movement. Defining patriarchy’ as the oppressive force they were battling, they began reexamining all aspects of their lives, including religion. In the 1970s, women began using the concept of “Goddess” as part of the feminist movement.
A women-only version of Wicca religion was created. A religion, which eliminated the God and all male aspects, as well as many traditional’ Wiccan elements such as hierarchies, secrecy, and formality and brought back the same old 17th and 18th century ideas of women being the primary force in every living thing. During the 1980s, while the name Wicca remained, many groups began using the term “neo-Pagan” which retains the God as well as the Goddess, but incorporates the increased status given to the Goddess and women. The Goddess is often identified with the Earth and elements in nature explicitly. It has been referred to as “eco-feminism” to reflect this increased emphasis. This stems from the Wiccan ideology that people have a unique responsibility toward the environment because of our ability to make conscious choices (Corbett 292). Goddess worship broadened to include African, Asian, and Native American ideals beyond the classic Wiccan deities.
Now considered the fastest growing religion in America by some scholars, neo-Pagans were represented at the World Council of Religions in 1993. Specially, San-Francisco is the most popular place for these rapidly growing religions to form their base of worship. Modern Goddess worship today can best be described as a renaissance of Paganism. Its worship of Goddesses and Gods occurred in the middle of this century with the re-emergence of Wicca. With the rise of feminism, new traditions within Wicca were created in which the Goddess grew in importance and the role of the God shrank. The Goddess in both Goddess Worship and Neo-Paganism is often visualized in three aspects: Maiden, Mother and Crone (Corbett 290). The Maiden represents youth, emerging sexuality, and the independence from men found in virginity.
The Mother symbolizes feminine power, fertility, and nurturing. The Crone is the wisdom and compassion, which evolves from experience, and the one who guides women through the death experience. Although not all followers of the goddess are Wiccan, virtually all Wicca’s are worshipers of the goddess (Corbett 291). This newly risen feminist spirituality acknowledges that female power is independent from all outside forces. It is an important and intense belief that can be called upon through rituals, dance, prayer, chants, or meditation.
Its message clearly states female ambition will not be subjugated in a “man’s world”. Images are of paramount importance to these religions. The portrayal of women in a positive way reinforces uniqueness, beauty of the female figure, and elegance of each woman’s soul. It calls participants to recognize the goddess within and celebrate their own connections to time and nature. Goddess images refine the female body, enabling women to take pride in themselves and encouraging men and children to respect their feminine power (Christ, 165).
Symbols and rituals are an essential component in goddess religion and feminist spirituality. Symbols evoke respect for the Goddess, Her role in nature, and the female form in general. Rituals reinforce these values as an outward sign of commitment and remembrance.
This combination of rituals and symbols brings Her power into believers’ lives. Ritual also creates long lasting moods and motivations which shape wisdom and become second nature for practitioners (Christ, 25). Another way in which this spirituality is felt is through material connections such as images, candles, books, and symbols of Mother Nature that can be incorporated to personalize and add meaning to the space.
Rituals are done in solitude or within a gathering of believers to invoke the power of the Goddess. Some others hold their spiritual practices in relation to new and full moons, recognizing the nexus between women’s cycles and the position of the moon (Christ 28-29). Carol P. Christ lists nine “touchstones” which can be consulted when attempting to maintain the ethics held in Goddess worship: nurture life, walk in love and beauty, trust the knowledge that comes through the body, speak the truth about conflict, pain, and suffering, take only what you need, think about the consequences of your actions for seven generations, approach the taking of life with great restraint, practice great generosity, and repair relations between all people peacefully (167). These “touchstones” are not commandments, only a guideline for virtuous and moral living, guideline to connecting back with nature and feeling the maternal essence in nature that it holds within. Reluctance to identify with the feminist spirituality movement stems from the negative associations people make with witchcraft. However, an estimated 50,000 American believers have been recorded (Corbett 294).
Many of the larger organizations have adopted home-study programs, museums, libraries, and stores for those interested in learning more about the beliefs of Goddess religion. Others hold conferences and celebrations to join the smaller, fragmented groups. Some groups strive to emphasize one specific aspect of their beliefs, such as Dianic Wicca does with feminism (Corbett 294-95). Although the popularity and acceptance of feminist spirituality seems to be increasing, Wicca and other groups are still not afforded the same status and recognition as other religions. Many misconceptions still exist today about the beliefs, practices, and organizations, which are categorized as Goddess religion. The followers of these traditions do not see themselves as contradicting more mainstream religious beliefs.
They view their spirituality as a refocusing and reprioritizing of values forgotten by a patriarchical society over thousands of years. Finally, restating my ideas about this new, or should I say re-found religion, I would like to mention that women of today are surely trying to get back to their old roots, trying to gain the due importance in life and in society. In doing so they have given rise to the religion of Theology’ and Spirituality’ wherein they can express their own feeling and can fight for their demands in society and get it through indoor meetings and also through the strength they achieve from these gatherings. Today, America is facing this huge uprising of women beliefs and women religion, which it is forced to accept considering the democratic facility that it provides its citizens with. Finally, through a few words, I would just like to show my part of appreciation towards this whole women and spirituality idea because in a way this is a kind of religion that can save our mother nature and also our earth’s resources for our future generations and provide us all with a better and safer life ahead.
Women in all cases should have equal respect and importance in society, or else this world and life on it would cease!Bibliography1.Culpepper, Emily E. “Contemporary Goddess Thealogy: A Sympathetic Critique”, ed. Clarissa W. Atkinson and Margaret R.
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