Do Women’s Circles Actually Matter? By Molly Remer
“We need rituals of memory…because a political movement, the public policy and tactics of our movement, does not come from our ideas, but from the bloody and joyful substance of our lives. We need to be conscious about what our lives have been, to grieve and to honor our strength, in order to break out of the past into the future.” –Minnie Bruce Pratt
I’ve been feeling depressed and discouraged lately after reading some really horrifying articles about incredible, unimaginable violence and brutality against women in Papua New Guinea who are accused of being witches as well as a book about human trafficking around the world (I wrote about this book in a recent post for Pagan Families). Then, I finished listening to David Hillman on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, in which he issued a strong call to action to the pagan community and to “witches” in the U.S. to do something about this violence, essentially stating that it is “your fault” and that rather than spending energy on having rituals to improve one’s love life (for example), modern witches should be taking to the streets and bringing abusers to justice. And, he asserts, the fact that they don’t, shows that they don’t really “believe”—believe in their own powers or in their own Goddess(es).
This brought me back to a conversation I had with a friend before our last women’s circle gathering…does it really matter that we do this or is it a self-indulgence? We concluded that it does matter. That actively creating the kind of woman-affirming world we want to live in is a worthy, and even holy, task. I’ve successfully created a women’s subculture for myself and those around me that comes from an ecofeminist worldview. However, is that actually creating change? Or, is that just operating within the confines of a damaging, restrictive, and oppressive social and political structure? Last time I facilitated a Cakes for the Queen of Heaven series, I made a mistake when I was talking and said, “in the land that I come from…” rather than saying, “in my perspective” or “in my worldview.” This is now a joke amongst my circle of friends, we will say, “in my land…that isn’t what happens,” or “let me tell you what it is like in my land.” I have to feel like that DOES make a difference. If we can share “our land” with others, isn’t change possible? Doesn’t “our land” have inherent value that is worth promoting, protecting, and populating?
I asked the woods and they responded…
What can I do to save the world?
Saving the world is a Christ complex
an illusion of superiority
a delusion of grandeur.
Or is it?
Is it instead
of what it is like to care?
Raise sons and daughters
who love themselves
and each other
and the earth
Say no to violence
Say no to microaggressions
and to micro-spending decisions that support oppression
Say yes to micro-acts on the side of love
Say yes to not giving up on macro vision
and big picture thinking
Always be willing to dig deep
to think hard
to feel strongly
hold your babies
hold your friends
refuse to give up
when defeated, rally once more.
Persist in a vision of the way things could be
and take action
to bring that vision into reality.
Speak your truth
tell your story
stand up for the silenced
speak for the voiceless
believe that hope still has a place
hold the vision
hold each other.
When I came back inside from my woods visit, I added another Kiva loan to the three I already have going (two of which represents pooled monies from my women’s circle members). I chose a women’s cooperative in Pakistan with a craft business. I paid for the loan using my profits from selling my own goddess art. I also signed up to sponsor a woman in the Congo via Woman to Woman International. Maybe this isn’t “enough,” but it is something. I work hard to support women in my own community in a variety of ways and I have for many years. I write all over the place…maybe that isn’t “real” help or maybe it is, but I can’t stop doing it.
With regard to my women’s circle and the questions my friend and I asked of ourselves, I returned to part of a past assignment for one of my Ocean Seminary College classes:
In The Politics of Women’s Spirituality, Rush observes, “the rituals being created today by various women are part of the renaissance of women’s spirituality, that is, of the ultimate holiness or life-sacredness of women and the female creative process. Within a world which for centuries has tried to brand women as ‘unclean,’ as ‘devils,’ or as ‘immoral corruptor of man,’ this healing process is a vital one.” She also states, and I deeply agree, that “reforming patriarchal religions…is not possible, just as reforming capitalism is not possible. The very institutions are contradictory to feminism. Women need to once again create new theory and practices for ourselves in order to reunite the spiritual element with the social-political” (p. 384).
She then says, “…it does seem to me, though, that it may be possible to create women’s religions within this culture even more the rest of the institutions have caught up with them, and to use these spiritual groups as vital centers for creating radically different ways of living. Women’s spirituality groups can become birth centers for social change” (p. 384).
Diane Stein in The Goddess Celebrates, while not using the same language, definitely draws the same conclusion in her observations that women’s self-empowerment is central to the women’s spirituality movement and in women’s rituals and that these rituals, “…create a microcosm, a ‘little universe’ within which women try out what they want the macrocosm, the ‘big universe’ or real world to be. Within the safety and protected space of the cast circle, women create their idea of what the world would be like to live in under matriarchal/Goddess women’s values…The woman who in the safety of the cast circle designs the world as she would like it to be takes that memory of creation and success out into daily life…A woman who in ritual meditation heals herself and the wrongs of the world, who sees herself whole and the planet clean and free, leaves the circle with a greater idea of what is possible and what it would be like. She has a greater impetus to take that microcosm into daily life and accomplish it on the earth…By empowering women through the microcosm of the ritual’s cast circle, change becomes possible in the macrocosm real world.” (p. 2-3)
I believe that gathering together as women and connecting over our belief in the value of women and of the value of the Goddess as a symbol is a radical and subversive act. To have the courage to come together in a circle that names women as holy and Goddess as “afoot” (whether literally or metaphorically), is a profound political, social, and cultural statement. And, it is how the personal becomes political. We gather in our homes, we celebrate our rituals and our rites of passage, we wear our Goddess jewelry, we write our articles and share our thoughts, we have the courage to link feminism with matters of the spirit, we speak up in public, we advocate and participate politically, we raise our children in female-affirming homes, and it is in this way that change is born and grows.
It starts with these private ritual and personal connections and then, as Stein explains, “A group of five such like-minded women will then set out to clean up a stream bed or park in their neighborhood; a group of twenty-five will join a protest march for women’s reproductive rights; a group of a hundred will set up a peace encampment. The numbers grow, the women elect officials to government who speak for their values and concerns. Apartheid crumbles and totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe end, disarmament begins, and laws to control polluters are enforced. Homes, foods, and jobs are opened to the world’s homeless, and often begins in the microcosm of the Women’s Spirituality ritual circle” (p. 3).
I do think one reason political feminism trends towards distancing itself from spiritual feminism (aside from perhaps thinking that a spiritual component prevents people from taking a movement seriously) is as Rush describes in Politics on page 384: “It stands to reason after so many centuries of brutal religious persecution, that women today should have a deep fear of conceptualizing our own spirituality. Women who try are severely penalized…Because of all this, it is essential that we do create our own spiritual practices. Our spiritual beliefs define what we respect, what we love—and what we ultimately perceive as our highest values. For a feminist, or for any woman, to perpetuate a patriarchal religion and to worship a male god is for her to deify her oppression” [emphasis mine]. This is powerful stuff, the impact of which cannot be denied or ignored. The symbolic value of ritual is extremely important as well. To many women traditional religious rituals and symbols have lost meaning and feel hollow or emotionless. I feel that women’s spirituality rituals bring heart, soul, and passion back to what has become rote in modern practice. Women’s rituals usually honor women’s bodies and women’s feelings and the phases of a woman’s life. They also typically use feminine images of divinity and Goddess language and imagery, which is a powerful antidote to the patriarchal culture in which we live. While on the surface or from afar, a woman’s ritual may seem like an innocently simple affair, in the context of patriarchy it is a radical and subversive act and statement for change.
Molly is a certified birth educator, writer, and activist who lives with her husband and children in central Missouri. She is a breastfeeding counselor, a professor of human services, and doctoral student in women’s spirituality at Ocean Seminary College. Last summer she was ordained as a Priestess with Global Goddess. Molly blogs about birth, motherhood, and women’s issues at http://talkbirth.me and about thealogy and the Goddess at http://goddesspriestess.com