I watched her hand stroke along my arm, so gently, so lovingly. Her voice whispered, “I love you, Trelawney. I love you, Trelawney.” The soft, tender caress felt poignant, healing, magical. I wept with gratitude.
It was my own hand stroking me. My own voice.
I want you to take a moment and imagine the person you love best in the world. Is there anyone? Is there someone you love utterly, you think of with pure, unconditional, compassionate, embracing, affirming, tender, protective, loyal, sacred love? Close your eyes a moment and let that feeling of pure love fill your heart until you understand that feeling with every fiber of your being. Do you have that Love? Truly feel it and know it with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength?
I’ve written about my existentialist leanings and how these are very much a reflection of my upbringing, and particularly my papa’s influence on me. He always talked about how we are all “just human.” He would humph disapprovingly at the use of categories or identity labels for people; he wanted to always affirm that all people are human, nothing more, nothing less. For my dad, labels and categories fixed people to a particular aspect of themselves.
He did not like the idea of reducing a person’s being, or limiting their many possibilities, with an overarching label. There were times with me when he would grumble if I referred to myself as Mexican-American or lesbian, for example, and he would say, “Argh, you’re human, that’s what you are, human.” He was always on guard about how a given identity can serve to limit my own imagination about myself or, worse, allow others to box me into their preconceived ideas of what that identity means.
Part 1 was posted last week, you can read it here.
I have been conversing with plants most of my life sensing the reciprocal nature of green beings and treating them as equals, so I was delighted by the bean’s behavior, although not surprised (western science has finally caught up with Indigenous knowledge as new studies indicate that plants listen/ and respond – see Gagliano, Simard). My magic bean is thriving, and every morning I make a promise to Scarlet Runner that the day will come when s/he will finally be free to climb to the stars… Relationships like this one sustain me.
Opening the door to mist ‘Mary’s Garden’ is entering another magic realm. Ferns I never planted are unfurling. Two hemlock seedling have emerald bristles on the tips of their needles, Partridgeberry is spreading, twin flowers are appearing, unknown seeds are sprouting, fungi come and go, lichens abound, some cascading from pieces of old wood. One old piece of pine bark supports the tiniest fungal trumpets. This terrarium is a source of endless enchantment and comfort on the coldest winter day.
Today I am publishing an early work on female language for God that I wrote with Emma Trout at the first Conference of Women Theologians in 1971. Highly contested at the conference, this essay is a foreshadowing of my subsequent work on the need for female imagery for divinity.
Rereading this essay more than four decades later, I am gratified to see that though we began our essay with the image of God giving birth (which I still view as an important image), Emma and I were aware of the danger that female imagery for God could reinforce “a false sexual polarity.” We insisted then that female imagery for God must not repeat sex role stereotypes, but rather must shatter them.
I am surprised that we also mentioned the need for a new non-static or process metaphysic, a theme I did pursue until I wrote Rebirth of the Goddessand then She Who Changesseveral decades later.
While the references in the essay are dated, the issues it raises are not. Though many mainline Christian and Jewish communities have adopted inclusive language, active experimentation with female language for God is relegated to the fringes of these groups. And while Goddess feminists resist gender stereotypes, some New Age teachers and Neo-Pagan groups perpetuate the idea that the Divine Feminine is receptive, loving, and giving, while the Divine Masculine is active, assertive, and aggressive.
ALTERNATIVE IMAGES OF GOD: COMMUNAL THEOLOGY BY CAROL CHRIST AND EMMA TROUT
How much better for theology to conceive of God the Creator as pregnant with the world, giving birth to it and nourishing it, than of God the divine Watchmaker who set the machine ticking millions of years ago. — Penelope Washbourne Chen in “Rediscovering the Feminine in God” The Tower alumni magazine
Even though we know that God Himself is not really a male, we have made use of no other images in talking about Him. As Mary Daly has pointed out, images have a way of perpetuating themselves even though we conceptually know better. (“After the Death of God the Father”) The image of God as a male authority figure serves to legitimize the structures of subordination (oppression) of women to (by) men. The problem is to conceive God in such a way that God’s masculinity does not function as a legitimation system for the oppression of women.
The imaging of God as male has two aspects: 1) the poverty of our language, and 2) the impoverishing of our vision of God by exclusive use of characteristics which our culture has attributed to and limited to the male in conceptualizing and imaging God. In the first of these two aspects we find images of God as Father, King, Lord; our language has no pronoun which is able to embrace and/or transcend both sexes. Our language forces us to think of God as male; we need words like “she-he,” “father-mother,” “daughter-son,” “brother-sister.” Regarding the second aspect: in the Western tradition, particularly the Christian theological tradition our ideas and images have been impoverished by almost exclusive use of “male” characteristics in conceptualizing and imaging God.
For example, initiative, transcendence, authority, primacy, leadership, control and order have all been conceived in static, self-sufficient, abstractly rational terms, in correspondence with masculine stereotypes. An alternative image of God suggested by Penelope Washbourne Chen, imaging God as pregnant, giving birth to, and nurturing the world, presents us with a more dynamic way of conceiving God. Philosophically, this image of God would find expression in the neo-classical metaphysics or process view of reality of Whitehead and Hartshorne, rather than the static ontology of the Greek tradition.
. . .
Let us now turn to the alternatives. Underlying the problem of choosing among the alternative conceptions/images of God is the problem of the evaluation of sexual differences. If, for example, one believes sexual differences are a fundamental polarity in human experience, she will find it appropriate to see this polarity reflected in the deity. If, on the other hand, one does not see sexual differences as a fundamental polarity, she will be wary of correcting a false male image/concept of God by introducing a “female” element which may serve to further legitimize a false sexual polarity.
If one is open to the possibility that sexual differences may not be fundamental, the real question is how to shatter the idol of a male deity without either 1) substituting a reverse idol of a female deity, or 2) legitimizing a false sexual polarity.
Photos of Carol speaking at the Conference of Women Theologians and of the Conference Participants from the Alverno College archives. Thanks to Sarah Shutkin for providing a copy of the essay from the Alverno College Library Archives.
This was originally posted March 18, 2021 Note from Janet: Thank you all who supported the launch of my book Desperately Seeking Persephone on May 19. Due to a printer’s error, the original books sent out were deeply damaged without formatting, editing and with uncertain content. If you received one of these books you are entitled to a free replacement. I have put instructions at the bottom of the post for anyone affected to receive their copy.
When I first found the Goddess and Women’s Spirituality almost a decade ago, my change and growth was painful. I hosted Women’s Circles, and often, they veered a tad towards venting but with self-realization and a determination to do better.
I did. And I watched the others in the Circles do so as well.
Powerful stuff. And it made me a believer in the strength of coming together while retaining our individual will and paths.
I am a different person today for all those Circles. They changed me in ways that no amount of counseling, journaling or pharmaceuticals ever could.
Desperately Seeking Persephone: A Shamanic Journey Through the Underworld by Janet Rudolph weaves together a healing journey from abuse and rape, a deep personal connection with the goddesses Inanna and Persephone, and the ups and downs of a long-term shamanic apprenticeship. These strands could have easily filled three separate books, but Janet masterfully crafts an integrated tapestry of personal and mythical strands. She integrates everyday life experiences, liminal space and the archetypal realms until something new emerges that is more than personal story, more than myth, and more than a description of discovering a shamanic path.
On May 9, 2023, in New York Supreme Court, “she said,” won. E. Jean Carroll was awarded a judgment of five million dollars in compensatory damages in her defamation and sexual abuse case against former President Donald Trump. YES, she won! He lost!
How did this happen?
The starting point is looking to a New York state change in its law regarding sexual assault. The assault took place in early 1969. Like many women, Ms. Carroll didn’t seek immediate legal help. She waited until 2019 to file a suit. Her explanation: at her trial, she opined, “I was born in 1943. Women like me were taught and trained to keep our chins up and not to complain.”
In November 2019, E. Jean Carroll did bring her first lawsuit against Donald Trump, which grew from his remarks when she accused him of sexual abuse. The suit was, however, limited to defamation. (Applicable statutes of limitation precluded any potential criminal action for sexual assault.) The Justice Department appealed the case.
From the moment I saw the title, Goddess Lost: How the Downfall of Female Deities Degraded Women’s Status in World Cultures, by Rachel S. McCoppin, I knew I would have to read it. When it arrived in my mailbox and I saw the cover, I was imbued with inspiration. Then I read two sentences in the Preface, which articulate what for me, and for many, is one of the most vital, powerful, and, as yet, under-addressed, facts.
The beginning of spring flies in on wings and croaks at my feet.
In four days, the landscape transformed from a dirty white shroud into a palette of heavenly browns. The goddess is manifesting on the first flights of the geese and ducks to open ponds, finally freed from ice. Crocus, emerging sage green bloodroot spikes, trillium, bloodroot, the arrival of phoebes, white throated sparrows, turkey convocations, the mating of the wood frogs, and the tiny amphibians we call spring peepers sing up the night.
Yet spring in the speed lane is deeply concerning. Temperatures skyrocketed instantly from mid 30’s to 80’s. Although the rivers and streams are still running there is no overflowing water. A few nights ago, we had the first round of light spring showers; then temperatures cooled down and now it is cold again. Many threatened wood frogs, salamanders, red efts, and toads were forced to migrate to ditches and vernal pools, their only breeding places, without warm rain; how this will affect these most vulnerable species remains to be seen. At present the earth is still moist but this drying trend is especially troubling since it has been consistent for several years. I am keenly aware of why the ancient pre -Christian goddess was first celebrated in the spring as the Rising Waters because adequate rain/flooding is the Source of all Life.
When I learned about the Navajo Beauty Way, I understood it to be a path in which human beings respect all beings in the web of life and live in harmony with them. But I didn’t understand why this path was called the “Beauty Way.” As a young woman, I knew that my worth was defined by many in terms of my ability to conform to ideals of female beauty promulgated in movies, tv, and advertising. I didn’t believe the Navajos were talking about beauty in that sense, but because of my conditioning, I was not yet able to fully grasp what they might mean by beauty. I would have called the way they were describing a “Way of Harmony” or a “Way of Respect for Life.”
This month’s Herstory Profiles are going to be on two extraordinary, courageous, and underrepresented Chinese Women. Afong Moy was the first Chinese Immigrant to America who found fame and ridicule. Anna May Wong was the first Chinese American Actress who was at the forefront of the ever-changing media and silver screen. These two women are trailblazers, revolutionaries, and have long been regulated as footnotes.
These days, I spend most of my time in Roanoke, Virginia. I moved here—a three-hour drive west—from Richmond, Virginia. One of the ways I’m settling into my new community is by volunteering as an escort at Planned Parenthood.
The job is straight-forward: Greet people as they exit their vehicle when they arrive at the medical facility’s parking lot. Usually, there are several protestors in front of the building, and clients must drive past them before turning right into the driveway. Protestors wave pink, plastic bags filled with anti-abortion literature as well as pamphlets that outline a specific, Christian view of “salvation.” Not many drivers stop. If they do, I walk over to the line that divides Planned Parenthood property from public space and wave the cars forward. The drivers are grateful. So many clients are nervous, upset, and unsure of protocol. One woman asked me if I was associated with “those people out there,” pointing to the protestors. “Not at all,” I assured her. She smiled with relief.
I grew up north of Dallas Texas in a suburbia hell called Plano: a concrete, strip mall jungle devoid of nature and trees beyond the contrived and manicured ones. When I married an Airforce pilot and escaped to Minnesota, Mississippi, Colorado, California and then Illinois, I learned how much I needed nature.
Fast forward twenty years and on my second marriage, we moved just south of Huntsville, Alabama to a small valley community where the foothills surrounding it signal the beginning of the Appalachian mountain range.
Home. My cells sighed in relief.
Soon after moving to Alabama, my troubled second marriage ended. And I found myself, like so many other Americans, uninsured. I was able to get my blood pressure medicine online but not the Clonazepam prescription that I have always used for my anxiety. When my dad died suddenly in the 90’s, my panic attacks began, and since then my anxiety had been an always present force in my life.
Are cruelty, violence and greed written into the human DNA? Are we destined as a species to continually and for eternity create our world in a hierarchical manner where the privileged few receive almost all of the goods and services while the masses live in slavery of one form or another?
I was on my knees awash in the kind of grief that only people who have been torn from the same skin can begin to comprehend.
I sprinkled most of the ashes lovingly in the shallow depression that I dug into half frozen ground. I had never felt so alone. Unknown to me, once a beloved companion, my little brother’s ashes had spent 32 years stuffed into a cardboard box in my parents’ attic. Every year since his death my nightmares intensified… he was left wandering in the dark with no place to rest.
Warning: this blog discusses spanking and bodily violence
“No Whips, No Punishments, No Threats: Women’s Control of Social Life” is the title of one of the chapters in Iroquoian Women, Barbara Alice Mann’s stunning reconstruction of female power in a matrilineal society. According to Mann, the European settlers were “unsettled” by the lack of strict punishment systems for children in Indian societies. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was the backbone of European child-rearing practices. The settlers viewed Indian children as naughty, disobedient, disrespectful, and horror of horrors: self-possessed.
It is perhaps no coincidence that after reading this chapter, bodily memories of violence inflicted on me as a child began to resurface. My strongest bodily memory is of being hit repeatedly on my left upper arm by my younger brother’s fist. It is as if my arm is still stinging in that particular place. My mother wanted us to play together, but when we did, we usually ended up fighting. My brother, who was two and a half years younger, was later diagnosed with dyslexia and given “little red pills” to help him control his temper. I was a quiet child (there must have been reasons for that too), and though I soon realized that if I hit back I would only be hurt more, I learned to use my tongue against my brother. This too was a form of violence and my brother remembers my cruelty to this day. Once when I asked my mother what she wanted for her birthday, she responded, “Two children who do not fight.” I didn’t even try to give her that because I didn’t know another way.
Note: This is the second in a two-part series reflecting on women in the biblical book of Daniel. For part 1, see here.
The second female character I noticed while taking a deep dive into the book of Daniel appears even more briefly. Daniel 11:6-7 includes her story: “The daughter of the king of the South will go to the king of the North to make an alliance, but she will not retain her power, and he and his power will not last. In those days she will be betrayed, together with her royal escort and her father and the one who supported her. One from her family line will arise to take her place” (NIV). It is a brief story—and not a happy one, in the end. But I think it’s worth reflecting on.
In this chapter of Daniel, an unnamed supernatural messenger gives Daniel a detailed account of a long series of violent power struggles between various kings. Empires accumulate and then are broken up (vv. 3-4). One king is strong, but his commander proves stronger and overtakes him (v. 5). Attacks are victorious, and valuables are seized and carried off (vv. 7-8). Retreats are made (v. 9). Great armies are assembled (v. 10). Kings “march out in a rage” toward battle (v. 11). Armies are carried off, and thousands are slaughtered (v. 12). You get the idea. Everything is violent. Everything is bloody. Everything is one brutal war after another, one brutal kingdom after another, one brutal ruler after another. It all starts to blur together.
Note: This is the first in a two-part series reflecting on women in the biblical book of Daniel.
I recently had the chance to take a deep dive into the biblical book of Daniel. I think it’s the first time I’ve read the whole book of Daniel since I’ve started intentionally attending to the questions of feminist biblical interpretation: Where are women present? Where are women absent? What are they doing or not doing—perhaps prohibited from doing? How does this passage move its readers toward—or away from—gender equity and women’s empowerment? How does it speak to—or deny—women’s full humanity?
The absence of women in most of the book of Daniel feels glaringly obvious to me. The main characters include the Hebrew exile Daniel, Daniel’s three (male) friends, King Nebuchadnezzar, King Belshazzar, and King Darius. The angels look like men. The divinely appointed eschatological authority figure is described as being like a “son of man.” The particularly oppressive king who desecrates the temple, abolishes the ritual sacrifices, and sets up an “abomination that causes desolation” is definitely male.
The Soul Collage process is not only a profound way of connecting to the divine within and around us; for me, it is also a powerful vehicle for channeling poetry from this same source. My results from this multi-step creative process have led me to explore some pleasantly surprising spiritual terrain.
As an example, the card above was created after a visualization exercise around the idea of community—specifically, the small cohort of women in our training program, and the influence they had on me as we worked and learned together:
After some time had passed, I revisited the card and asked it once again to inspire me creatively. The result was this poem, which evokes an indigenous vision quest—an experience I have not had outside of this creative journey.
How do you speak about someone who not only rocked your own world, but those of countless others? Whose fertile imagination and generous nature inspired and transformed so many lives? My friend, teacher, and mentor Rachel Pollack died in April. It’s hard to wrap my head around what a huge loss this is, not only for me, but for the world. She had an encyclopedic knowledge at her fingertips of mythology, tarot, historical trends, cultural trends, ancient civilizations. She was a storyteller at heart, using personal stories, universal stories to teach. She encouraged and guided each of us to discover and tell our own stories. Her stories won both the Arthur C. Clarke and the World Fantasy Awards. I call her the Grandmother of the Tarot because her work in that area has been so ground-breaking, far-reaching and depthful.
I write JIA, instead of RIP, special for Rachel. JIA means Journey In Adventure. Rachel was adventurous to her core. Rather than resting in peace I see her continuing her immensely adventurous journey just now on the other side of the veil. I see it as a continuing wondrous, magical ride that she has earned.
“There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that. You walked alone, full of laughter, you bathed bare-bellied. You say you have lost all recollection of it, remember! …. You say there are no words to describe it; You say it does not exist. But remember. Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.”
From Les Guerilleres, by Monique Wittig, mid-20th Century French feminist writer
The first time I heard this quote from Wittig was in the mid-1990s when I took ‘Cakes for the Queen of Heaven,’ an introduction to feminist thealogy and the Great Goddess, created by the Women & Religion committee of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Cakes was my introduction to Carol Christ, feminist thealogy, and the Goddess. It changed my life forever. I’ve been teaching this program for close to twenty years now and as my understanding of women’s history and the role of patriarchy in our suppression has deepened, I continue to find new resonances with Wittig’s words.
“There was a time when you were not a slave, remember that.” This statement is relevant to all oppressed peoples and especially to women. History tells us that enslavement was a part of European culture long before Africans were kidnapped into slavery on this continent. Enslavement of the defeated was a common aspect of war, dating back to Biblical times. Many aspects of the feudal system dominant in western Europe for centuries were little better than slavery.
Warms spring rain. The flooding fractured a poorly built bridge, rising waters overflowed moss covered banks – roads disappeared under the deluge, and I was out transplanting the last of my perennials! Working in the rain is a sensual experience – the scent of sweet earth grounds me, the sound of rushing waters not only stills inner chatter but reminds me that this is the time of year that every tribal culture used to celebrate the coming of the rains, the rising of the waters, and the blessing of wildflowers. Today, I know of no one that celebrates May Day but me, although some still honor this day as a Turning of the Wheel of the Year. And how can the latter not be?
After transplanting, moving stones, and feeding the tadpoles in my frog pond, I check on the progress of all the wild bee loving violets around the house. No flowers yet. I visit the brook to peer down at budded trillium and marsh marigolds. One golden blossom greets me in the rain; Mary incarnates! The first delicate trumpets of trailing arbutus glow like pearls. Too late for frog breeding, vernal pools are now overflowing.
September 25, 2013 is the second anniversary of the death of environmental, peace, justice, and democracy advocate and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Wangari Muta Maathai.
Wangari Muta was born in 1940 in a round hut in rural tribal Kenya. Wangari’s tribe considered the fig tree to be holy, and she was taught that one is never to cut a fig tree down or to use its branches for firewood. Wangari spent many happy childhood hours in the shade of a fig tree that grew by a nearby stream. Fig trees play an important role in the ecological system of the Rift Valley of Kenya. Their roots penetrate the hard rock surface of the mountains to find underground water, thus opening channels where the water flows upward to fill streams and rivers.
This post is a follow-up, in a way, to the post I published here on September 11, 2016, entitled “Continuing Pre-Christian Traditions in the Czech Republic,” and will be a combination photo essay* and elaboration on one of the rituals mentioned in that first post. On April 30th, I was in the small village where my partner’s family has their summer house. Yes, that same village that has inspired posts like this. There, we celebrated Čarodějnice, or Witches. This holiday seems to be related to what is called May Day or Beltane in other countries. What is unique about this tradition isn’t necessarily the májka (May Pole) although it is different than other places May Pole, but the burning of the witch.
Throughout the day, everything is gendered. The women and girls have certain tasks; the men and boys have too. The women and girls create and decorate. First, they create a witch to be burned on a large bonfire; the construction and shape of both can vary. After creating the witch, the women and girls (although it should be virgins – but no one really follows that tradition) decorate the top of a cut-down, very tall pine tree with strips of brightly colored fabric and crepe paper, tying them on to create what will become vertical streamers blowing in the wind, thus creating what is called a májka.
As Mother’s Day beckons, Mary Shelley would like to have a word, or rather a novel’s worth of words. Her novel 200-year-old FrankensteinOr a Modern Prometheus has much to say today about the essential matristic values of nurturing and life-giving, women’s reproductive and other rights, parenthood and child care, and more. The novel’s two centuries of play, film, and book adaptations, most recently Kris Waldherr’s excellent Unnatural Creatures: A Novel of the Frankenstein Women, attest to Frankenstein’s continuing relevance to profound aspects of human experience.
First, let’s look at what might have influenced the writing of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women which in 1792 championed educational and employment opportunities for women. She advocated for women to be treated as full human beings rather than as mere objects of beauty whose inherent “hysteria” made rational thought impossible. Wollstonecraft cited the benefits to society of mothers who can properly educate their children. Wollstonecraft died soon after giving birth to Shelley and was vilified for a previous illegitimate daughter.
This is a privilege of being a teacher: to walk along the side, to journey with another while he (she/they) navigates his (her/their) own road, to see how far he (she/they) has come.
And I am so grateful for it.
I hooded my first graduate advisee this week; and I am so happy for him. My student worked hard for over a year; and as the date for his final draft submission approached, I was privileged to witness his growing excitement and pride. I felt my own growing pride. Over that year, I had talked about my advisee many times with my family, “going to a meeting with so and so again,” “so and so sent me an updated draft that I need to get to” etc., so much so that on the day of his defense my older sister said she was crossing her fingers for him and my brother asked me if I’d told him that they were rooting for him. I hadn’t; though clearly working with this man had touched me in a way that also touched them.
This is a privilege of being a teacher: to walk along the side, to journey with another while he (she/they) navigates his (her/their) own road, to see how far he (she/they) has come. And I am so grateful for it.
Molly Remer of Brigid’s Grove, a fellow contributor here at Feminism and Religion recently wrote on the Mother Well section of the divine feminine app: “I feel like Inanna & Enheduanna are all around in recent months!”
Yes. I do as well.
A year or two ago, I read a book by Lauren Sleeman entitled ‘Behold’. The premise of the book has remained with me: a telling of the Goddesses, in particular Lilith, the Great Mother and Crone of the Cosmos, and Hekate, Goddess of the Dark Moon and the Mysteries of Life, who have been silently watching and waiting these past few thousand years to return to our human consciousness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about abuse. Of course, most of us know about the domination, exploitation and need for control meted out by patriarchy, but I wonder if we have actually normalized many abuses? Abuse in the home, in the workplace, in our culture. Perhaps we accepted it unconsciously because so many of us are conditioned by religions that tell us to make noble sacrifice and tolerate suffering silently. I wonder if we’re calling it out when we see it – often and loudly – or if we’ve become conditioned to quietly accept the abuse with little push back.
My intent is not to offend anyone with this. I want to find common ground and defeat the polarization we find around us, but our President is the poster child for abusive behavior. Do we recognize his lies and fear-mongering and so many of the ideas he gives credence and license to as abuse? Not only is he eroding our democratic institutions but he poisons the political, social and cultural arena with negativity, fear and hate, rather than uplifting us and encouraging us to evolve and be the best version of ourselves. I equate him to poison in a well from which we must all drink.