Patricia Monaghan, scholar, author, poet, activist, artist, visionary and vice-president of the Association for the Study of Women and Mythology died early on November 11, 2012 after a two year journey with cancer. Patricia was one of the Founding Mothers of the Goddess Spirituality community in the United States, and her loss is a profound one for our spiritual and scholarly communities.
I was a very junior scholar when I first met Patricia in the 1990s. I had long admired her work, especially O Mother Sun!, her comprehensive study on sun goddesses. We were at a regional gathering, and Patricia had been deputed to lead a table of discussion devoted to Goddess scholarship. When we introduced ourselves, she simply said that she was Pat, from Chicago. Our discussion was rolling along when recognition hit. As I remember, I broke into the conversation. “You’re Patricia! From Chicago! “ I enthused. “Your work has been so important to me!” One of Patricia’s key characteristics was her generosity, especially with young and emerging scholars. I left that gathering with her email address, and I thought I was the richest young woman in the world. In the ensuing years, she encouraged me all the way through my doctorate. We had a long and joyous journey together.
Patricia was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. to Irish-American parents, and maintained dual Irish and American citizenship. She earned her undergraduate and first graduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where she studied English and French literature. She also earned an MFA in creative writing (poetry) from the University of Alaska. She worked as a journalist in both Minnesota and Alaska, writing about culture, nature, and the intersection of the two. Patricia earned her PhD in Science and Literature from The Union Institute in Cincinnati in 1994. In 1995, she joined the faculty of the School for New Learning at DePaul University, where she taught classes in arts and environmental sciences.
Goddess scholars and women’s spirituality practitioners, however, will remember Patricia for her groundbreaking contributions to the fields of Goddess Studies and Women’s Spirituality. In 1979, she published the first encyclopedia of female divinities, a book which has remained steadily in print since then and was recently republished in a two volume set as The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. A long-time scholar of Celtic lore, she also published The Encyclopedia of Celtic Myth and Folklore. She edited a three-volume collection of essays entitled Goddesses in World Culture, published in late 2010. Patricia brought her lifelong interest in Ireland together with her commitment to women’s spirituality in The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: The Landscape of Celtic Myth and Spirit. This is a unique travelogue of Irish heritage sites and their relation to goddess figures. Her other books on women’s spirituality are The Goddess Path and The Goddess Companion, both introductory books on the subject; O Mother Sun, an analysis of world myths about solar goddesses, Wild Girls: The Path of the Young Goddess, a group of stories for girls about youthful goddesses; and Magical Gardens, a book of garden designs based in mythology that was reissued in early 2012. A revised and expanded edition of Meditation: The Complete Guide was recently published. At the time of her death, Patricia had just finished co-editing with her spouse Dr. Michael McDermott an anthology of writings called Brigit: Sun of Womanhood. She was also revising The Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines for a paperback edition. Both can be expected in 2013.
Patricia’s scholarship and immersion into Irish landscape and heritage produced in her a profound appreciation of the writer and artist as oracle and seer, prophet and visionary. The last few years of her life were devoted to the projects she held the most dear: The Association for the Study of Women and Mythology,The Black Earth Institute, and Irish folklore study. The Black Earth Institute is dedicated to inspiring artists to serve the causes of inclusive spirituality, protecting and healing the earth and fighting for social justice. She focused her work and travels increasingly on discovering Irish mythology and folklore. The creation and development of ASWM were high priorities for Patricia. (www.womenandmyth.org) ASWM supports the work of those whose scholarly/creative endeavors explore or elucidate aspects of the sacred feminine, women and mythology. Through conferences, publications and networking, ASWM opens dialogue among disciplines, individuals and spiritual traditions. Scholars and creative artists in all media whose work deals with images of the feminine divinity, as well as those interested in the work of such scholars and artists, participate in ASWM’s activities.Patricia was committed to the importance of recognition of new work, to call attention to Goddess scholarship within academia at large. She was devoted to the mentoring of new and emerging scholars. She will be endowing an annual prize for ASWM.
Memorials are being held the weekend of December 1 in the Madison, Wisconsin area, but Patricia’s influence reaches far beyond. A goddess-sister of mine in Des Moines, Iowa, has created a memorial celebration here, and vigils and ceremonies have been and will be held in many local communities. ASWM plans a ceremony of remembrance in conjunction with the Symposium in St. Paul, Minnesota in April 2013.
Because of Patricia, I am now writing my first book. I have not written a word since she moved into the spirit world. Her spirit chides me. More than anything, she would wish for our work to go on, for scholarship about the goddesses and the female divine and the women’s myths to thrive. She has created a royal road upon which we can travel, and her generosity and inspiration will light the way. I will go to Wisconsin this weekend and say yet another goodbye. Then I will come home, and write.
Dawn Work-MaKinne is a 2010 Ph.D. graduate in Women’s Studies in Religion at The Union Institute and University, Cincinnati, Ohio. Her dissertation is titled “Deity in Sisterhood: The Collective Sacred Female in Germanic Europe.”