This semester of my PhD program includes a plethora of courses pertaining to the spiritual lineage of women. I'm being introduced to new ideas, civilizations, Goddess-centered communities, and scholars who have been doing this work LONG before I was even born. I'm ashamed to say that many of the names were unrecognizable and therefore I'm really absorbing all that I can from these thought-leaders and pioneers in women's spirituality and feminism. But, there was also a little moment of pride when I DID recognize a name or a study or practice. It was a reminder that I'm still learning and that's okay. We all have to start somewhere.
Scholar and activist Carol P. Christ passed away in July of 2021. She was a feminist theologian, author, and proponent of Goddess studies. She was a keynote speaker at a Goddess conference in California in 1978 where she presented her original writing titled Why Women Need the Goddess. According to her research, and the research of other theologians and philosophers at the time, Christ determined that women need a divine feminine figure to model their own lives, bodies, struggles, and autonomy off of.
*This image was found on the website: Feminist Studies in Religion, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to foster feminist studies in religion in all its variety and diversity.*
In her addresses, Why Women Need the Goddess, Christ listed the following reasons:
The notion of a divine feminine figure affirms and legitimizes female power.
A divine feminine figure affirms the female body and its cycles.
The divine feminine provides an affirmation of women's will.
The divine feminine provides an affirmation of women's bonds with one another and gives us a positive female heritage to look back on.
Christ also talks about the experience of a woman's spiritual quest upon discovering the concept of a Goddess. She lists the steps in the quest as:
the experience of nothingness
a new naming
This is interesting if you've ever studied concepts and theories of consciousness. Some schools of thought suggest that we come into awareness of ourselves, our bodies, our minds, and our surroundings out of assumed nothingness or lack of awareness about the human form. We then have a spiritual awakening that leads us to explore and discover the world around us and the universe in relation to our lives. Then, we gain insight and create theories, stories, myths, religious beliefs around our new insights. Eventually, we name things and sometimes, after going through such a transformation, we re-name ourselves in our news forms; as a new conscious being. I didn't know that when I re-named myself Freia Serafina. I was born with the name Freia, gave myself a nickname in middle and high school that I used to introduce myself by, and then eventually added Serafina; dropping my last name in the process. I didn't feel authentic until I started using Freia Serafina publicly. Whether you subscribe to a particular notion of transcendental consciousness (or something else) or not, it is interesting how many adults change or alter their names to fit their perceptions of themselves. It seems like that process is quite similar to the awakening many women experience when they start to see divinity as female.
Christ also pointed out what other scholars have before her in saying that if society believes that the master of creation is male, and that we are all created in his image, then it is easy to go a step further and assert male dominance and female erasure. Religious thought creates "moods" and "motivations" about the world around us. We start to view our world through our own particular belief systems and religious lens. If that's the case, then we are viewing the world around us through a patriarchal, male dominated view.
"Religions centered on the worship of a male God create "moods" and "motivations" that keep women in a state of psychological dependence on men and male authority, while at the same legitimating the political and social authority of fathers and sons in the institutions of society. Religious symbol systems focused around exclusively male images of divinity create the impression that female power can never be fully legitimate or wholly beneficent. This message need never be explicitly stated (as, for example, it is in the story of Eve) for its effect to be felt. A woman completely ignorant of the myths of female evil in biblical religion nonetheless acknowledges the anomaly of female power when she prays exclusively to a male God. She may see herself as like God (created in the image of God) only by denying her own sexual identity and affirming God's transcendence of sexual identity. But she can never have the experience that is freely available to every man and boy in her culture, of having her full sexual identity affirmed as being in the image and likeness of God. In Geertz's terms, her "mood" is one of trust in male power as salvific and distrust of female power in herself and other women as inferior or dangerous. Such a powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting "mood" cannot fail to become a "motivation" that translates into social and political reality." - Christ
Eve is a good example here. We are told that it is Eve's sin that leads to the downfall of man. Eve was tempted in the garden and now we're all doomed as sinners dependent on forgiveness from a male God. It's Salome and her sexual dance that leads to the beheading of John the Baptist. It's the erasure of the true role of Mary Magdalene that keeps women in a cycle of property or prostitute. It's the erasure of matriarchal civilizations and egalitarian societies that oppress women and marginalized peoples for the benefit of the patriarchal system. It's "scientific", "historical", and "philosophical" writings and translations of sacred texts by men with male views and agendas that erase and demonize female divinity, power, and importance in any given society. The swift and often violent killing off of the Goddess in these cultures, and the mocking and dismissing of the rise of Goddess spirituality and paganism aids in suppressing the voice of women all around the globe. It's all connected.
We know that representation is important. If you've opened social media this week at all, or put on the news, you'll see two things of importance in that regard. The response of the general public (read: patriarchy, white supremacy, racism, colonialism, etc.) to Meghan Markel returning to England to pay respects to Queen Elizabeth, and the absolute abhorrent response to Halle Bailey's trailer as Ariel in The Little Mermaid. But, you've also seen the young girls responding in awe and delight at seeing a Disney Princess who looks like them. We know representation matters and we know why. Remember, if you will, all the times you looked for someone like you on TV or in the movies and never finding them. Or any episode of America's Next Top Model where someone, anyone, told some young woman that because she was a size 6 she was massive and would never make it as a model. Or maybe all of the magazines like Cosmo or Seventeen that taught 12 and 13 year old's what boys really liked and how to change their appearance to be more attractive. I don't have to tell you what that does to women on a psychological or emotional level. You already know.
It's the same idea. It's the exact same thing. If God is a man, and God controls everything, and God is the most powerful being in the world, then so is man. Not woman... man. Women, then, are second-rate and can't make decisions over their own bodies, minds, hearts, desires. If male God's word is bond, then of course men can make decisions for us. Of course men can lay down the law of the land! Who are we to argue? What right do we as women have to fight back against the ultimate power of man? None... if you listen to the patriarchy. That is why women need the Goddess. We need Her in all her powerful, creative, divine, soft, and caring glory. We need her symbols and her motifs. We need themes of femininity and sacredness. We need blood, childbirth, saggy breasts, stomach rolls, bare faces, bare feet, beauty according to our own standards, sexuality according to our own standards. It is impossible to empower women through a feminist or womanist perspective without addressing and eradicating ALL forms of oppression. It is all connected.
I will leave you with some questions: what are some symbols that you're aware of that represent female divinity? Have they always been associated with the Goddess? What about the symbols of male divinity? Were they ever co-opted to fit a specific agenda? Yes, these are leadings questions... and the answers are out there.
It is time to reclaim the Goddess, sister.
Sources and Resources: