The Goddess movement includes spiritual beliefs or practices (chiefly neo-pagan) which has emerged predominantly in North America, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s. The movement grew as a reaction to perceptions of predominant organized religion as male-dominated, and makes use of goddess worship and a focus on gender and femininity.
The "Goddess movement" is a widespread, noncentralized trend in Neopaganism, and therefore has no centralized tenets of belief. Practices vary widely, from the name and number of goddesses worshipped to the specific rituals and rites used to do so. Some, such as Dianic Wicca, exclusively worship female deities, while others do not. Belief systems range from monotheistic to polytheistic to pantheistic, encompassing a range of theological variety similar to that in the broader Neopaganism community. Common pluralistic belief means that a self-identified Goddess worshiper could theoretically worship any number of different goddesses from cultures all over the world.
Capitalization of terms such as "Goddess" and "Goddesses" usually vary with author or with the style guides of publications or publishers. Within the Goddess community, members generally consider it proper to capitalize the word "Goddess", but not necessary when generic references are made, as in the word "goddesses".
- Goddesses refers to a local or specific deities linked clearly to a particular culture and often to particular aspects, attributes and powers (for example: the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar; Athena; or Hindu goddesses like Sarasvati, the goddess of learning, poetry, music, inspiration and wisdom; and Lakshmi goddess of wealth and sovereignty).
One can regard a goddess (in this sense) as an aspect of the Great Goddess as well as a specific goddess with a particular role within a pantheon. The Hindu goddess, Durga, is a case in point. The name Durga can refer to a specific aspect of the Goddess but in the Shakti forms of Hinduism generally refers to the Great Goddess as AdyaShakti: the primordial Shakti who incorporates all aspects. Anthropologists in their studies of goddesses have noted that adherents of goddesses often view their own goddess as a personal guardian or teacher.
- The Goddess or the Great Goddess is a female deity that is regarded as primary. Such a religious system existed historically in many cultures, though not under the same names and not necessarily with the same traits. If there is a male god, his powers may be seen as deriving from her. These terms are not usually understood to refer a single deity that is identical across cultures but rather a concept common in many ancient cultures, which those in the Goddess movement want to restore. When Goddess is spoken of as a personal guardian, as in 'my Goddess' it means 'my worldview in Goddess spirituality.'
- Goddess Spirituality is sometimes used as a synonym for Goddess Movement and sometimes as the spiritual practice that is part of the Goddess movement.
- Goddessing is a recent contribution to Goddess vocabulary, possibly derived from the British journal of the same name, following from Mary Daly's linguistically suspect suggestion that deity is too dynamic, too much in process and changing continually, to be a noun, and should better be spoken as a verb (Daly 1973). Goddessing may also mean Goddess culture, Goddess way of life, Goddess practice, or 'my goddessing' as in my individual interpretation and experience of Goddess.
- Priestess refers to women who dedicate themselves to one or more goddesses. It may or may not include leadership of a group, and it may or may not include legal ordination. The analogous term for men is "priest." However, not everyone who dedicates themselves to the Goddess or goddesses calls themselves a priestess (or priest).
- Thealogy is a term whose first use in the context of feminist analysis of religion and discussion of Goddess is usually credited to Naomi Goldenberg, who used the term in her book Changing of the Gods. It substitutes the Greek feminine prefix "thea-" for the supposedly generic use of the Greek masculine prefix "theo-". Frequently used to mean analysis of Goddess thought and mysticism, it can also be used more liberally to mean any kind of divine, not just deity divine, as in meditation, ethics, ritual pragmatics.
In the 19th century, some first-wave feminists such as Matilda Joslyn Gage and Elizabeth Cady Stanton published their ideas describing a female Deity, whilst anthropologists such as Johann Jakob Bachofen examined the ideas of prehistoric matriarchal Goddess cultures. However these ideas were largely ignored in the North America and much of Europe until second-wave feminism. In addition to Bachofen, second-wave feminists who became interested in the history of religion also refer to the work of Helen Diner (1965), and M. Esther Harding (1935), Elizabeth Gould Davis (1971), and Merlin Stone (1976).
|Women and Spirituality Trilogy|
Since the 1970s, Goddess Spirituality has emerged as a recognizable international cultural movement. In 1978 Carol P. Christ's widely reprinted essay "Why Women Need the Goddess", which argues in favor of the concept of there having been an ancient religion of a supreme goddess, was presented as the keynote address to an audience of over 500 at the "Great Goddess Re-emerging" conference at the University of California, Santa Cruz; it was first published in Heresies: The Great Goddess Issue (1978). Carol P. Christ also co-edited the classic feminist religion anthologies Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (1989) and Womanspirit Rising (1979/1989); the latter included her essay Why Women Need the Goddess.
From 1974 to 1984, WomanSpirit, a journal edited in Oregon by Jean and Ruth Mountaingrove, published articles, poetry, and rituals by women, exploring ideas and feelings about female deity. The journal The Beltane Papers, which started publication at about the same time until mid-2011. In 1983, Jade River and Lynnie Levy founded the Re-formed Congregation of the Goddess, International (RCG-I) in Madison, Wisconsin, RCG-I continues today with groups called "Circles" in many U. S. localities, as well as an educational program, priestess training, and ordination. The Goddess movement has found voice in various films and self-published media, such as the Women and Spirituality trilogy made by Donna Read for the National Film Board of Canada.
Use of mythological materials
Participants in the Goddess movement often invoke myths. However sceptics claim that these have been reconstructed from ancient sources and others are modern inventions. These myths are not interpreted literally, but rather figuratively or metaphorically as reflecting ancient understandings and worldviews. For instance, creation myths are not seen as conflicting with scientific understanding but rather as being poetic, metaphoric statements that are compatible with, for example, the theory of evolution, modern cosmology and physics.
Myths from ancient cultures are often reinterpreted as new evidence comes to light. Because myths from religions that included goddesses, those after the Bronze Age, including Greek and Roman mythology, are believed to have patriarchal bias, reinterpretation by Goddess movement writers and women scholars help to provide a truer mirror of the social set up of the period in which the story was written. The myth of Demeter and Persephone is one that has been reinterpreted.
Goddess Spirituality characteristically shows diversity: no central body defines its dogma. Yet there is evolving consensus on some issues including: the Goddess in relation to polytheism and monotheism; immanence, transcendence and other ways to understand the nature of the Goddess.
One or many?
One question often asked is whether Goddess adherents believe in one Goddess or many goddesses: Is Goddess spirituality monotheistic or polytheistic? This is not an issue for many of those in the Goddess movement, whose conceptualization of divinity is more all-encompassing. The terms "the Goddess", or "Great Goddess" may appear monotheistic because the singular noun is used. However, these terms are most commonly used as code or shorthand for one or all of the following: to refer to certain types of prehistoric goddesses; to encompass all goddesses (a form of henotheism ); to refer to a modern metaphoric concept of female deity; to describe a form of energy, or a process.
The concept of a singular divine being with many expressions is not a new development in thought: it has been a major theme in India for many centuries, at the very least as far back as the 5th century, though hymns in the early Vedas too speak of a one-Goddess-many-goddesses concept.
Within or without?
Another point of discussion is whether the Goddess is immanent, or transcendent, or both, or something else. Starhawk speaks of the Goddess as immanent (infusing all of nature) but sometimes also simultaneously transcendent (existing independently of the material world). Many Goddess authors agree and also describe Goddess as, at one and the same time, immanently pantheistic and panentheistic. The former means that Goddess flows into and through each individual aspect of nature—each tree, blade of grass, human, animal, planet; the latter means that all exist within the Goddess.
Starhawk also speaks of the Goddess as both a psychological symbol and "manifest reality. She exists and we create Her" (italics hers). Carol P. Christ (2003), describes what she sees as similarities between Goddess theology and process theology, and suggests that Goddess theologians adopt more of the process viewpoint.
Although the Goddess movement has no Ten Commandments dictating a specific code of behavior, there are commonly held tenets and concepts within the movement that form a basis for ethical behavior. Those participants in Goddess spirituality who define themselves as Wiccan/en, usually follow what is known as the Wiccan Rede: " 'An it harm none, do what ye will", ("an" being an archaic English word understood to mean "if", or "as long as"). Many also believe in the Threefold Law, which states that "what you send (or do), returns three times over". Some traditions believe that this means it will be returned to the sender three times, or in a portion three times in volume, while others say it will instead be returned to the sender on three levels of being- physical, mental, and spiritual. Still others postulate that the number "three" is symbolic, meant to indicate a magnified karmic result for one's actions.
Some people in the Goddess movement honor the Triple Goddess of Maiden, Mother, and Crone. The Maiden aspect of the Goddess shows women how to be independent and strong; the Mother aspect shows women how to be nurturing; and the Crone aspect shows that respecting elders is important and focuses on wisdom, change, and transformation.
Because the Crone aspect of the Goddess is understood by some to be destructive at times, some consider it to contain both positive and negative imagery and to present an ethical quandary. The Hindu Goddess Kali, or Kali Ma, is often seen as an example of the Crone aspect. The concept is that the corrective force in a Dark Age must be a righteously directed dark force. Thus, to combat the demons of ignorance, ego, anger, etc., the darker aspect manifests. Later on, even her fierce image softens in the love of her devotees. Her duality is easily reconciled with the monism of Hinduism, which claims to understand the fundamental unity of truth as being impersonal and stratified in an ego-knotted existence (such as the human condition), and thus to the evil or unrighteous she is destruction personified and to the loving and moral devotee she is nothing but the love of the mother.
Other Goddess ethical beliefs are that one should not harm the interconnected web of life, and that peace and partnership should be the goals, rather than war and domination. According to Goddess theologian Carol P. Christ the following are ethical touchstones:
"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; Repair the web."
The Goddess movement draws some of its inspiration from the work of such archaeologists as Marija Gimbutas, whose interpretation of artifacts excavated from the region she called "Old Europe" points to societies of Neolithic Europe that were "matristic" or "goddess-centered" worshipping a female deity of three primary aspects inspiring some neopagan worshippers of Triple Goddess.
Heide Göttner-Abendroth, working in the 1970s to mid 1980s and writing originally in German, called these cultures "matriarchies", introducing a feminist field of "Modern Matriarchal Studies". She presented a theory of the transformation of prehistoric cultures in which the local goddess was primary and the male god, if any, derived his power from the goddess. In what she terms the "Downfall", which occurred at varying times in various cultures, the gods overcame the goddesses and made them subservient. This is believed to mirror the gradual suppression of women and the rise of patriarchy.
Göttner-Abendroth's terminology is idiosyncratic. The term "matriarchy" to describe these cultures has been rejected by many Goddess-movement scholars, especially those in North America, because it implies female domination as the reverse of the male domination present in patriarchy. These scholars make the point that such a reversal was not the case; rather these prehistoric cultures were egalitarian and had a social structure that included matrilineality - inheritance of assets and parentage traced through the maternal line.
According to Riane Eisler, cultures in which women and men shared power, and which worshipped female deities, were more peaceful than the patriarchal dominator societies that followed. Eisler proposed the terms "dominator" and "androcracy" instead of "patriarchy", and "partnership" and "gylany" (taking the first letters of the prefixes gyne [female] and andro [male] and linking them with an "l") instead of "matriarchy". Others use the terms matrifocal and matrix. Carol P. Christ writes, "The term matriarchy is not used by scholars who are aware of its controversial history."
Ian Hodder's reinterpretation of Gimbutas and Mellaart disputes the existence of "matriarchal" or "matrifocal" cultures, as do some other archaeologists and historians in this field. However, mythologist Joseph Campbell compared the importance of Gimbutas' output to the historical importance of the Rosetta Stone in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs. Campbell provided a foreword to Gimbutas' The Language of the Goddess before he died, and often said how profoundly he regretted that her research on the Neolithic cultures of Europe had not been available when he wrote The Masks of God.
Marija Gimbutas, dubbed "Grandmother of the Goddess Movement" in the 1990s, continues to be cited by many feminist writers, including Max Dashu. Many other scholars, including Joan Marler and Marguerite Rigoglioso, support her work. Still, Gimbutas' theories had been widely criticized as mistaken on the grounds of dating, archeological context and typologies Some archaeologists consider her goddess hypothesis implausible some regard her work as pseudo-scholarship.
Wicca regards "the Goddess", along with her consort the Horned God, as a deity of prime importance. The earliest Wiccan publications described her as a tribal goddess of the witch community, neither omnipotent nor universal, and though recognizing a greater "Prime Mover", witches did not concern themselves much with this being.
Many forms of Wicca have come to regard the Goddess as a universal deity, more in line with her description in the Charge of the Goddess, a key Wiccan text. In this guise she is the "Queen of Heaven", similar to Isis; she also encompasses and conceives all life, much like Gaia. Much like Isis and certain late Classical conceptions of Selene, she is held to be the summation of all other goddesses, who represent her different names and aspects across the different cultures. The Goddess is often portrayed with strong lunar symbolism, drawing on various cultures and deities such as Diana, Hecate and Isis, and is often depicted as the Maiden, Mother and Crone triad popularized by Robert Graves (see Triple Goddess below). Many depictions of her also draw strongly on Celtic goddesses. Some Wiccans believe there are many goddesses, and in some forms of Wicca, notably Dianic Wicca, the Goddess alone is worshipped, and the God plays very little part in their worship and ritual.
Robert Graves popularized the triad of "Maiden" (or "Virgin"), "Mother" and "Crone", and while this idea did not rest on sound scholarship, his poetic inspiration has gained a tenacious hold. Considerable variation in the precise conceptions of these figures exists, as typically occurs in Neopaganism and indeed in pagan religions in general. Some choose to interpret them as three stages in a woman's life, separated by menarche and menopause.
Some, but not all, participants in the Goddess movement self-identify as witches, Wiccans or Wiccens. (Likewise, some, but not all, Wiccans and witches consider themselves to be part of "the Goddess movement".) Other participants in the Goddess movement call themselves Goddessians . Still others use "pagan" as a generic label for their spiritual worldview, or employ no identifying label at all.
Some witches, especially Dianics, attempt to trace the historical origins of their beliefs to Neolithic pre-Christian cultures, seeing Wiccanism as a distillation of a religion found at the beginning of most, if not all, cultures. They regard wise women and midwives as the first witches. Dianic witchcraft first became visible in the 1970s, with the writings of Zsuzsanna Budapest. Her feminist version of witchcraft followed a few decades after the founding (or discovery) of Wicca by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s. In its original and traditional forms, Wicca appears as a duotheistic pagan religion which honors a God and a Goddess equally. Gerald Gardner (1884–1964) who, with Doreen Valiente (1922–1999) founded Gardnerian Wicca in Britain, claimed that a surviving coven of traditional witches worshippers of both a male Horned God and a female Goddess, had initiated him into Wicca in the 1940s.
For their time, Gardner and Valiente advocated a fairly feminist ideal of priestess authority in service to the Wiccan God and Goddess. Covens in "traditional" Wicca (i.e., those run along the lines described by Gardner and Valiente) had and have pretty much equal leadership both of a priest and of a priestess; but often consider the priestess "prima inter pares" (first among equals) - according to the book A Witches' Bible, by Stewart and Janet Farrar. (Other early authors on Wicca and witchcraft, such as Paul Huson in his book Mastering Witchcraft, and Charles Cardell of the Coven of Atho, and Robert Cochrane of the Clan of Tubal Cain, generally saw the male priest or magister as being of more importance.)
While virtually all Wiccans honor the Goddess as one of their two main deities, they may or may not consider themselves to be feminists. For this reason, they may or may not identify with the label "Goddess worshipper" when it is construed as connoting a feminist ideological position, or when it is regarded as an ideology that aims at elevating the Goddess to a position of more importance than the God. Thus, the worship of a goddess or even a Great Goddess should not necessarily be construed as a feminist position per se. (For example, the worship of feminine deities by both men and women in India was historically very widespread, as it was in ancient Greece; even though both of those cultures can be considered more patriarchal than most.)
Doreen Valiente became known in Britain as the 'Mother of the Craft' and contributed extensively to Wicca's written tradition. She is the author of The Witches' Creed, which lays out the basics of Wiccan religious belief and philosophy; including the polarity of the God and the Goddess as the two great "powers of Nature" and the two "mystical pillars" of the religion. One way to characterize the central male-female divine dyad in Wicca is to say that it's a duotheistic religion with a theology based on the divine gender polarity of male and female. Valiente also wrote both the Invocation to the Horned God and the Charge of the Goddess, the latter of which now exists in a number of variations, and is one of the most famous texts of the Neopagan movement.
The existence of witchcraft as the remnants of an old pagan religion as late as the early Modern Age was first suggested to a wide readership by Margaret Murray's books, The Witch Cult in Western Europe, The God of the Witches (1933) and The Divine King in England. Margaret Murray's books were focused mainly on the worship of a male Horned God, but she saw witches themselves as being either male or female. Murray's theories were widely discredited by experts at the time, and have been thoroughly debunked now, despite still having mass appeal. Gardner's publications on Wicca followed her theories and argued that witchcraft had survived longer than even she had guessed. Gardner's claimed history of Wicca is similarly discredited. See History of Wicca.
In formulating an outline of Wiccan theology and liturgy, Gardner drew not only upon the writings of Margaret Murray and her ideas about the worship of an ancient Horned God, but also upon the writings of Charles Godfrey Leland, author of Aradia, the Gospel of the Witches - who speculated that witchcraft involved the worship of a moon goddess. In combining ideas from these two authors, Gardner arrived at Wicca as a duotheistic religion that honored both the male and female deities, and that saw them as divine lovers, in a polar male-female dyad.
Wicca and Neopaganism, and to some extent the Goddess movement, were influenced by 19th-century occultism, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and romantic nature movements in which both male and female were valued and honored as sacred, in contrast to and perhaps in reaction to mainstream Christian spirituality. Such views are described, for example, in the work of Robert Graves, especially The White Goddess (the origin of the neopagan 'Triple Goddess' concept) and Mammon and the Black Goddess.
Wicca was also heavily influenced by the ideas of alchemic symbolism, which emphasized the essential complementary polarity of male and female, and that characterized that basic duality or gender polarity as a partnership of the solar (male) and the lunar (female). In Wicca the moon is the symbol of the Goddess and the sun is the symbol of the God; and the central liturgical mystery and ritual act is "The Great Rite" or Hieros Gamos, which is a symbolic union of the God and the Goddess, as the primal male and female powers of the cosmos. In alchemy this was known as "the alchemical wedding" of the sun and the moon. In a parallel vein, traditional Wicca also draws heavily upon the Western Hermetic Tradition and its roots in the kabbalistic Tree of Life; where the twin pillars of masculine and feminine divine forces are joined by a Middle Pillar that encompasses and transcends both male and female. These "twin pillars" as they are shown in tarot decks are analogous to Valiente's depiction of the God and the Goddess as the two "mystical pillars." In this emphasis on the feminine as the equal and complementary polar opposite of the masculine, Wicca echoes not only kabalistic sources but also the polarity of yin and yang—feminine and masculine—in Taoism.
The main forums for the movement during the 70s and 80s were independently produced magazines and journals such as Green Egg in America and Wood and Water in the UK, among many others. These periodicals attempted to represent the diversity of thought and belief. Mention should also be made of the work of UK feminist groups such as the London-based Matriarchy Study Group which produced the Goddess issue of the feminist periodical Shrew (this was an occasional publication, produced by a different collective each issue) as well as the pamphlets Menstrual Taboos and The Politics of Matriarchy; these featured the early writings of Asphodel (Pauline) Long and the artist Monica Sjoo among others. Internal newsletters of the Matriarchy Study Group and the later Matriarchy Research and Reclaim Network contained much discussion of goddesses and their significance to modern and ancient women, and some of their members produced the periodical Arachne, which brought similar material to the public.
One of the founders of modern American Goddess religions, Zsuzsanna Budapest, (Zee or "Z"), started a women-only Dianic Craft or Dianic Tradition version of witchcraft in the mid-1970s, a few decades after Gerald Gardner. She was a prolific author, who twinned feminism with Tarot and witchcraft from her Hungarian background. Z challenged laws in California against Tarot reading and won. Zee is considered by her sect to be the honoured Mother of the American Dianic Craft and a primary proponent of modern separatist Goddess theology.
The Dianic view is that separatism, in a world where gender roles were once strictly defined, is sometimes considered dangerous because it challenges what they see as patriarchal assumptions of Western culture.
Later, in America came Starhawk, activist and author of numerous books, as an influential author/priestess in the American Goddess movement. Her 1979 book, The Spiral Dance, played a large role in popularizing the Goddess movement as well as modern Witchcraft among committed feminists, and is considered a classic of modern Paganism.
Many non-Dianics, as well as Starhawk (herself considered to be one of Budapest's students), who also reject monotheistic patriarchal culture, do not agree with Z's justification for separatism. Starhawk's paganism was more broadly based and also drew on the Feri tradition of Witchcraft which, itself, incorporated Hawaiian, European, and Middle Eastern elements. She was initiated into the Feri tradition in California by Victor and Cora Anderson. Starhawk is one of the founders of the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft, which includes both women and men, and which honors both the God and the Goddess.
First broadcast on PBS in 1988 as a documentary interview with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, written by Joseph Campbell, was also released in the same year as a book created under the direction of the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The Power of Myth links the image of the Earth or Mother Goddess to symbols of fertility and reproduction. For example, Campbell states that, "There have been systems of religion where the mother is the prime parent, the source... We talk of Mother Earth. And in Egypt you have the Mother Heavens, the Goddess Nut, who is represented as the whole heavenly sphere". Campbell continues by stating that the correlation between fertility and the Goddess found its roots in agriculture:
Bill Moyers: But what happened along the way to this reverence that in primitive societies was directed to the Goddess figure, the Great Goddess, the mother earth- what happened to that?
Joseph Campbell: Well that was associated primarily with agriculture and the agricultural societies. It has to do with the earth. The human woman gives birth just as the earth gives birth to the plants...so woman magic and earth magic are the same. They are related. And the personification of the energy that gives birth to forms and nourishes forms is properly female. It is in the agricultural world of ancient Mesopotamia, the Egyptian Nile, and in the earlier planting-culture systems that the Goddess is the dominant mythic form.
According to Joseph Campbell,
...half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.
One of these metaphors is Eve. Campbell argues that Christianity, originally a denomination of Judaism, embraced part of the Jewish pagan culture and the rib metaphor is an example of how distant the Jewish religion was from the prehistoric religion—the worship of the Mother Goddess or the Goddess.
Earth as Goddess
Many people involved in the Goddess movement regard the Earth as a living Goddess. For some this may be figurative, for others literal. This literal belief is similar to that proposed by Gaia theory, and the Goddess-name Gaia is sometimes used as a synonym for the Earth. Many of those in the Goddess movement become involved in ecofeminism, and are concerned with environmental and ecological issues. Goddess-movement adherents claim the hierarchical scheme giving humans dominion over the Earth (and nature) has led to lack of respect and concern for the Earth, and thus to what environmentalists identify as environmental crises, such as global warming. Rather than having dominion over the Earth, Goddess-movement theorists see humans living as part of the Earth environment, and also refer to Earth as "Mother".
Reclaiming Witchcraft is an organization of feminist modern Witchcraft, aiming to combine the Goddess movement with political activism (in the peace and anti-nuclear movements). "Reclaiming" was founded in 1979, in the context of the Reclaiming Collective (1978–1997), by two Neopagan women of Jewish descent, Starhawk and Diane Baker, in order to explore and develop feminist Neopagan emancipatory rituals. Today, the organization focuses on progressive social, political, environmental and economic activism. Guided by a shared, "Principles of Unity, a document that lists the core values of the tradition: personal authority, inclusivity, social and environmental justice and a recognition of intersectionality".
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